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Cleopatras daughter, p.10
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.10

           Michelle Moran
 

  “That is not what I have seen in the paintings or statues.”

  “Because they’re stylized,” Alexander explained patiently. “I have never worn a kilt in my life.”

  “I am sorry,” she said, and I could see that she was. As a child, she must have suffered the same humiliation when she was paraded through the streets of Rome. “But this is what Caesar has instructed.”

  I did not fight her when she took me to the bathing room. I could see that Gallia was unhappy, but when she helped me to put on the beaded dress and I looked in the mirror, my cheeks grew hot. The beads covered only the most important places; otherwise I might as well have been naked.

  But when Octavia arrived, her hand flew to her mouth. “What is she wearing?”

  “What Caesar ordered,” Gallia said indignantly.

  “She will not be paraded through the streets like a whore!” She turned to me. “Have you brought other clothes?”

  “Silk tunics and wigs,” I answered swiftly.

  “And that’s what you wore in Alexandria?”

  “With paints.”

  “Then fetch them.” She closed her eyes briefly. “Better paint than this.”

  Octavia watched while Gallia fit the wig over my hair, and she frowned a little when I showed Gallia how to extend the dark lines of antimony outward from the corners of my eyes. Gallia wanted to know about everything I unpacked. The henna for my hands, the moringa oil for my face, the pumice stone for removing extra hair around my brows.

  “You are too young for that!” Gallia said sternly. “You will rub your face raw.”

  “That’s what this is for.” I showed her the cream Charmion had used on my face every morning. She held it to her nose, then passed it to Octavia.

  “And all women wear these things?” Octavia asked quietly. “Henna and wigs?”

  “On special occasions,” I told her.

  She glanced at Gallia, who said, “It’s not much different from the malachite that Romans use for eye shadow, Domina. The Egyptians just prefer more of it.”

  When we left the bathing room and returned to the chamber, I suppressed a laugh. My brother was dressed in a long linen kilt. A golden pectoral shone from his chest, and a pharaoh’s blue and gold nemes headdress had replaced his diadem. When he turned, he crossed his arms angrily. “How come you get to wear your tunic, and I have to wear this?”

  “Because Caesar wanted me to wear a beaded dress.”

  He gasped. “Like a dancer?”

  “Or a whore,” I said in Parthian.

  Octavia cleared her throat. “We are going to the atrium now.” She smoothed her stola nervously. “My brother is coming here to make an offering. Then the procession will begin at the Senate. Nothing will happen to you,” she promised.

  “You will be on the float behind Caesar,” Gallia explained. “And the plebs will never risk hurling stones if they think they might hit him.”

  “But they might hurl other things,” my brother ventured.

  Gallia looked to Octavia, who shook her head firmly. “No. You will be close to Octavian. I will see to that.”

  I took my brother’s arm. In the atrium, Octavian and Livia had already arrived. They were instructing Marcellus and Tiberius on where they would ride during the Triumph, though Marcellus seemed to be more intent on smiling at Julia. As soon as we appeared, the conversation faltered. Agrippa and Juba stopped polishing their swords.

  “By the Furies!” Marcellus exclaimed, and moved toward me. “Look at this wig.” While everyone turned to look, Julia watched me with unveiled disgust. There will be trouble with her, I thought.

  “Where is the beaded dress?” Livia demanded, and I realized it wasn’t Caesar who had ordered the dress for me, but Livia. She wanted to see me humiliated. But when no one answered her, she repeated, “Where is the dress?” She advanced, but Gallia stepped in front of me.

  “There was an unfortunate accident with the dress this morning. It appears that Domina’s cat mistook it for a plaything.”

  “You arrogant little lupa. Move!”

  Gallia stepped aside, but Octavia took her place. “The dress is gone, Livia.”

  “Liar! I know you took—”

  “You are speaking to the sister of Caesar, who does not lie,” Octavian said angrily.

  Livia lowered her eyes in shame. “Forgive me, Octavian.”

  “It is my sister you have offended, not me.”

  Everyone watched while Livia turned to Octavia. “I am sorry,” she said, though her words sounded more bitter than contrite.

  Octavia merely nodded. She hadn’t lied. The dress was gone, given to one of the slaves to sell in the marketplace. It was Gallia who had twisted the truth, and I wished my wig could make me disappear when Livia’s eyes settled on me. She will never forget this humiliation. She will blame me for this. Me and Gallia.

  “Where is my speech?” Octavian demanded.

  Livia produced it slowly from her sleeve. He took the scroll from her, and when he unrolled it, he nodded approvingly. “This is good.” I noticed he was wearing a steel corselet beneath his toga, and he shifted uncomfortably under the weight. “Agrippa, Juba, you understand not to move during the speech?”

  “I will be on your left,” Agrippa promised. “Juba will be on your right. If a senator moves toward you—”

  “Then you have my permission to draw your sword. We are a family,” he said sternly, looking from Octavia to Livia to Marcellus. “Family members protect one another, and the people of Rome must see this. The plebs look to the Julio-Claudii to understand tradition, unity, morality. And if we cannot be happy, what chance is there for a brick-maker to be happy? So there will be smiles, even from Tiberius.”

  Tiberius made a purposely ugly grin, and Marcellus snickered. “How handsome!”

  “I’m sorry I can’t be as beautiful as you,” Tiberius snapped at Marcellus.

  But Octavian was not in the mood for banter. “Enough! Octavia, the Lares.”

  Octavia reached into a small cabinet and took out a vessel of wine. She poured a cup’s worth into a shallow bowl beneath the bust of Julius Caesar, and, together, everyone in the room intoned “Do ut des”: I give so you will give.

  There was a short silence. Then Octavian straightened his shoulders and announced, “Let the Triumph begin.”

  I expected the Senate to be the grandest building in all of Rome, a place so enormous that every senator who had ever served could have sat within its marbled chambers. So when I saw that it had been made of concrete and brick, the lower half faced with marble slabs, the upper half with imitation white blocks, I asked Marcellus, “Is this it?”

  “The Curia Julia,” he said reverently. “Romans call it the Senate.” Graffiti covered the steps, and some of the images were undoubtedly of Caesar. If my mother had ever found graffiti of herself, the men responsible would have been hunted down and sentenced to death. Yet Octavian hadn’t even bothered to order it removed for his Triumph. A single flight of stairs led to a pair of bronze doors, and Marcellus lamented, “We’re not normally allowed inside.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because we’re still too young, and women are never allowed within. But they’re making a special exception for you.”

  I glanced nervously at my brother.

  “And what will we do?” Alexander asked. The morning’s light shone so brightly from his golden pectoral that Marcellus had to hold up a hand to see him.

  “Sit there while my uncle gives his speech. Then the Triumph will begin. I’ll be riding only a few paces ahead of you,” he said reassuringly.

  “On a float?”

  “A horse. To the right of Caesar.” The position of honor.

  “Come.” Agrippa beckoned Alexander, and as we mounted up the steps, I glanced over my shoulder at Marcellus, who gave me an encouraging smile.

  “This is the Senate,” Agrippa said as we entered. “There is no one inside because it’s still too early. But in a few moments, all
of this will be chaos.” The wooden benches for the senators rose in tiers, and across from the door was a raised platform where Octavian would give his speech.

  Alexander craned his neck to see the whole building. “How many senators are there?” he asked.

  “Nearly a thousand,” Agrippa replied.

  “And there’s room for all of them in here?”

  “No. Some of them will have to stand in the back.”

  We crossed the Senate floor toward the platform, and Agrippa held back so that Alexander and I could follow Juba up the three small steps. A statue draped in linen stood next to the dais.

  Octavian looked at Juba. “Is this it?”

  “The statue of Victory,” Juba said. “Sculpted two hundred and fifty years ago in Tarentum and completely unharmed. It is authentic.”

  Octavian tore away the linen, and Alexander and I both stepped forward.

  “Just like Nike,” I whispered in Parthian, “our goddess of victory. I wonder if these Romans ever come up with anything original.” My brother pinched my arm, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that when the senators filed into the building, they would be looking at a statue sculpted by a Greek.

  As the senators arrived, they greeted one another with raised arms, and their voices echoed loudly in the chamber. Men in purple and white togas filled the benches, carrying scrolls under their arms and wearing wreaths on their heads. There were five chairs on the platform, and Agrippa instructed us to sit on his left, freeing his right arm in case he had need of his sword. Alexander seated himself next to Octavian, and on the other side of Caesar was Juba. Both men took their seats, but while Octavian studied his notes, Juba searched the crowd. No one coughed, or stood, or even bent forward to chase an errant scroll without Juba’s notice.

  When there was no more space in the Senate, Agrippa cleared his throat. “It is time.”

  Octavian smoothed his palms against his toga, and I wondered how he could be nervous. These were his people, his victory, his Senate. He unrolled the scroll that Livia had given him outside of Octavia’s villa, and I could see that his hands were shaking. But his eyes were filled with determination. He stood, and the room fell silent. Though it was early in the morning, the chamber was already unbearably hot, and I was thankful for the doors that were propped open so that the senators’ sons could watch the proceedings from outside.

  “Patres et conscripti,” Octavian addressed the men formally. “If you and your children are in health, then all is well. For I and the legions are in health.” There was a roar of approval, though he hadn’t said anything of importance. But then he told them about his conquest over Dalmatia, his victory at Actium, and finally his acquisition of Egypt, which would remain his personal property and not a kingdom to be governed by the Senate. “For Antony shamed himself in the streets of Egypt. He shamed himself in the palace of Alexandria. And he shamed himself by allowing a foreign queen to give commands to our Roman legions. But that shame is over!” There was thunderous applause. I looked at my brother, whose face was as pale as his linen kilt.

  “From this day forward, the name of Marc Antony shall be obliterated from the Fasti. His statues shall be removed from the Forum, and no member of the Antonius clan shall ever be named Marcus so long as there is a Senate in Rome.” The applause rose up again. “Finally, I propose that the birthday of the traitor become a dies nefastus, an unlucky day on which public business shall never be conducted!” There was a roaring cheer, and I assumed that Octavian’s proposal had passed. He looked behind him and smiled at Agrippa. The scroll in his hand was no longer shaking.

  “In the wake of such victories,” Octavian went on, “some of you are wondering why there are no slaves. Perhaps you remember when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and brought back forty thousand blond barbarians. Now, every woman in Rome wants to be blond. But I will not have our women painting themselves like the whores of Egypt! If your women must paint, let them decorate your villas. Let them buy Egyptian statues. But we are Romans, and we shall look like Romans!”

  The applause that met this statement was deafening.

  “There shall be no temples to Isis within the boundary of Rome. Let Romans worship Roman gods. As for the Senate, I propose an increase in pay. What job in Rome is more important than leading its people and making the decisions that will affect their lives?” There was a hum of approval throughout the building. “This is the dawn of a bright new age. For the first time in several hundred years, we have peace, and there will be prosperity. With my own denarii I shall create not only battalions of fire watchmen but crime watchmen, and increase the number of people who are allowed free grain from three hundred thousand a year to four hundred thousand.” His voice boomed over the Senate, and I realized that this was part of his theater—a way of enslaving citizens to him without chains. “For every victory or personal triumph,” he continued, “I encourage you to contribute to the building of this new Rome. My commander Titus Statilius Taurus has already begun the first amphitheater constructed of stone. My consul Agrippa has put his own denarii into baths that have welcomed tens of thousands of men. Now, he will erect the Pantheon, the greatest temple ever built for our gods. Lucius Marcius Philippus is rebuilding the Temple of Hercules Musarum. What are you building?” he demanded. “On which monuments shall your name be written for eternity?”

  I could feel the senators’ excitement. There was no talk of punishing those who had supported my father, no talk of anything but a new Rome. Octavian made a small, graceful bow. Then suddenly everyone was moving.

  “What’s happening?” I asked Alexander.

  “The Triumph has begun,” Agrippa replied.

  Horns blared in unison outside the Senate, and an old man appeared at the bottom of the platform holding a pair of golden chains. “For the children,” he said.

  I looked to Agrippa.

  “It is only for the Triumph,” he explained, and when he instructed us to hold out our hands, tears betrayed me. He fitted them first around Alexander’s wrists, then turned to me, but didn’t meet my gaze. His daughter Vipsania is four years younger than I am. I wonder if he’s imagining her humiliated this way. He made sure the chains were loose around our wrists, and when a senator smiled at the picture we presented, I forbade myself from crying.

  I was too ashamed to look at my brother as we followed Octavian through the double doors into the Forum. When I tripped over my tunic, Juba said harshly, “Keep walking.”

  “I am,” I retorted.

  “Then you can quit feeling sorry for yourself. You’re still alive.”

  Outside, thousands of people were singing and dancing to the music of flutes. Soldiers attempted to keep the plebs away from the senators, who were organizing themselves in lines for the procession, but it was a fool’s task. Juba led us through the madness to a wooden float, which had been decorated to look like an Egyptian chamber, and began to mount the steps. In front of me, my brother stopped suddenly, and I followed his gaze. At the top, a wax figure of my mother lay on a couch with a cobra coiled between her breasts.

  “Don’t look,” he said angrily. “They want us to weep in front of Rome.”

  I bit my lower lip so hard I tasted blood, and Juba pointed to a pair of gilded thrones, where we were supposed to sit beside the likeness of our mother. “You will not move,” he instructed. “Or even think of escape.” My eyes flashed, and though I didn’t ask Or what? he added, “There are thousands of soldiers here today, and every one of them would love to claim that he killed one of Marc Antony’s children.”

  I sat obediently and forbade myself from thinking of Charmion. She had hated the noise and closeness of parades, and her heart would have broken to see us sitting there amid the signs of all the cities that Octavian had conquered. Some of the men below were dressed as personifications of rivers the Roman legions had crossed, including the Euphrates and the Rhine. But what would have saddened Charmion the most were the women who had been chained together, naked except for sig
ns on their chests that identified their conquered tribes.

  Alexander surveyed the scene below us; then suddenly he turned to me and whispered, “No one is ever kept alive after a Triumph.”

  “Then why give us rooms? Why let us stay with Octavia?”

  “To keep us obedient!”

  I searched my brother’s face. “Then what do we do?” Alexander lifted his kilt, and when I saw the outline of a knife, I exclaimed, “How did you—?”

  “Shh. I took it from Marcellus. I told him I needed to cut the ropes on our traveling chests and he never asked for it back. We may still be executed, but not without a fight.”

  When the Triumph began, it became a blur of people and soldiers. I was aware of the chariot in front of us, pulled by a team of four white horses and carrying Octavian with his wife and sister. All three were wearing wreaths of laurel, but only Octavian’s face had been stained with vermilion to remind the people of Jupiter, the father of the gods and administrator of justice. I watched Octavian smile through his dark-red mask, and wondered what role he would perform once the procession reached the temple. Would he be the executioner?

  We passed the Temple of Divus Julius, where a speaker’s platform had been built from the prows of ships Octavian had captured at Actium. And while crowds of people screamed below us, I couldn’t hear anything but the sound of blood rushing in my ears. From the tops of porticoes streamed long crimson banners, and in a courtyard where children were playing games, a statue of the Egyptian god of death had been erected, with a collar below its canine head and a sign that read, BARKING ANUBIS HAS BEEN TAMED. There were other signs as well, rewards for slaves who’d gone missing or had been captured. Slave catchers, who called themselves fugitivarii, clearly thought that this was the time to advertise their services, and I wondered if slaves used public days like this to escape from their households. I looked down at the chains around my wrists, thinking it might be possible for us to escape. But Juba hovered next to Octavian like a hawk, studying the crowds with his sharp black eyes, watching, waiting.

 
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