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Cleopatras daughter, p.11
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.11

           Michelle Moran
 

  When we reached the Capitoline Hill, the floats were surrounded by the cheering, drinking mobs as they groaned their way toward the top. The senators tried to push the men back, and soldiers made threatening gestures with their shields, but no one wanted to shed Roman blood on a day of victory. The crowds chanted, “Io Triumphe!” and when I turned my head I could see that, below us, the smaller floats carried treasures from my mother’s mausoleum. Gold and silver gleamed from open chests, and the sun was reflected from the beautiful wine bowls and golden rhyta my father had used when he was alive. We rolled to a stop before Jupiter’s temple, and for the first time I could see Marcellus and Tiberius on their horses. Both of them dismounted, but it was Marcellus who came toward us. I glanced at my brother, whose hand went swiftly to his knife.

  “Marcellus would never hurt us,” I said.

  “He will do whatever Octavian commands.”

  But as Marcellus mounted the steps of our float, he looked from my brother to me and his color rose. “What is this?” he shouted. “Somebody take off these chains!” The same old man who had appeared in the Senate approached the base of our float with a key. “Today!” Marcellus snapped impatiently. As soon as we were free, he led us down the steps and shook his head understandingly. “It’s over now.”

  But Alexander hesitated. “So what will your uncle do with us?”

  “When?”

  “Today,” my brother replied.

  “I doubt you will be the guests of honor, if that’s what you mean. He will probably ask Agrippa—”

  “But are we to be executed?” I cried.

  Marcellus recoiled. “Of course not.” He looked at both of us, startled by our solemn silence. “Is that what you were thinking?” When neither of us answered him, he swore, “My mother would never let that happen. You’re like her own children.”

  “So was Antyllus,” Alexander reminded him, “and he was slaughtered at the feet of Caesar’s statue in Alexandria.”

  Marcellus nodded gravely. He had been raised with our half brother Antyllus during the years that that Octavia was married to our father, and had known him far longer than we ever had. “This is different,” he promised. “You’re too young to threaten him.”

  “And when we turn fifteen?” my brother demanded.

  “He will marry you off. Until then, you’ll just have to suffer through school with the rest of us.” There was a blast of horns and Marcellus motioned quickly. “Hurry!”

  Inside the Temple of Jupiter, men stepped aside when they recognized Marcellus, and as we made our way past the bodies of sweating senators, an old man held out his hand to me. “For you, Selene.”

  I recognized the symbol of Isis on his belt at once. To anyone else, the knot would have been unremarkable, but I knew it was a sacred tiet. I looked around, but the temple was too crowded for anyone to see. Quickly, I took the slip of papyrus from his hand.

  “A thousand blessings,” he said as I passed.

  As we reached the altar I pretended to adjust the brooch at my shoulder. I unpinned it and, slipping the scrap of papyrus beneath, repinned it so that no one could see. Then my heart began to beat faster in my chest. I wondered what the message might be—rebellion, rescue, delivery from Rome—and when I looked up, I saw Juba watching me.

  CHAPTER SIX

  WE WERE given time to prepare ourselves before the Feast of Triumph, but I didn’t show Alexander what I had received. Instead, I slipped the secret message into my book of sketches. Then, while Gallia brushed my wig and laid out a fresh tunic, I took the book with me into the bathing room and read the note.

  There is hope in the Temple of Isis. Egypt is lost only so long as the Sun and Moon are imprisoned. I wish for the Sun to come, and we shall prepare for a time when the Moon may rise again.

  It was written in hieroglyphics, and even if the message was short, its meaning was clear. If I could make my way to the Temple of Isis, the High Priest would find a way to return us to Alexandria. I thought of the madness in the Temple of Jupiter, where a thousand senators had crowded together, laughing and drinking and chanting “Io Triumphe!” Those same senators would be invited to Octavian’s villa, and I was certain I could slip away unnoticed. Of course, Alexander couldn’t come. If both of us disappeared, the alarm would be raised, and there would be no time to meet with the High Priest. Besides, if I told Alexander what I was doing, he would argue against it. I closed my book of sketches, and when Gallia returned, I asked casually, “Do you know of a temple to Isis in Rome?”

  She gave me a long look before sweeping my hair into a knot and fitting the wig over my head. “There is a temple to Isis on the Campus Martius. It is outside the boundary of the city,” she said. “But I would not think of asking to go there,” she warned. “Domina will not like it.”

  “Why?”

  Gallia gave an elegant shrug. “Domina worships Roman gods. She does not believe in the gods of other nations.”

  “So when you came to Rome,” I asked quietly, “did you lose your gods as well?”

  She laughed sharply. “The gods cannot be lost. These Romans can shatter our statues,” she whispered, “and replace them with images of Jupiter and Apollo, but the gods remain here.” She touched my chest briefly. “And here.” She indicated the space above us. “Artio still watches over me.”

  Octavia entered the chamber behind us, followed by Alexander and Marcellus, who were dressed in matching kilts and pharaonic crowns. They poked their heads into the bathing room and Marcellus asked, “So? Could I pass for an Egyptian?”

  I rose from my chair. “Where did you get that?” I exclaimed. A golden collar gleamed from his neck, as bright as newly minted coins.

  “My uncle had it made for me and sent from Alexandria.”

  I studied the collar closely. The hieroglyphics were etched in silver, and the name of a nineteenth-dynasty Pharaoh was written on the side. “Are you sure you’re not wearing the possessions of the dead?”

  Octavia covered her mouth in horror. “If that is something from one of the tombs—”

  “Your brother would never steal anything from a tomb. He’s afraid of lightning,” Marcellus reminded her, “and his entire chamber is filled with amulets. Do you really think he would go digging in cursed sands?”

  “No,” she agreed.

  But I wasn’t so sure. Perhaps one of Octavian’s soldiers had thought it was easier to steal than to create. After all, Octavian himself had stolen the ring from the body of Alexander the Great.

  “Besides,” Marcellus added mischievously, “this is far too nice to have been made a thousand years ago. Ready?” He took my arm, and Alexander fell into step beside us.

  “Is this how Romans see Egyptians?” I asked. “In kilts and pectorals?”

  “And crowns and gold cuffs,” Marcellus added.

  Alexander held up the linen flap of his blue-and-gold-striped headdress. “No one has worn this in three hundred years.”

  “Well, prepare for a resurgence,” Marcellus warned, and in Octavian’s villa hundreds of senators were dressed in similar crowns, with thick bands of gold encircling their wrists. The women wore golden snakes on their arms, and their short black wigs were cut sharply to the chin. Despite the proclamation that Romans must dress like Romans, the senators and their wives were happy enough to try and look like Egyptians so long as it was in mockery and in celebration of Octavian’s triumph. “Julia!” Marcellus called excitedly, and when she crossed the garden where dining tables and couches had been arranged, I heard Marcellus draw in his breath. Julia’s long white sheath was completely transparent when her back was to the sun. I wondered pettily if her father had seen her dressed like that. “You look like an Egyptian princess,” Marcellus swore. “Doesn’t she, Selene?”

  Julia fixed me with her dark-eyed glare.

  “Yes. Just like an Egyptian,” I lied.

  Julia turned to Marcellus. “Did you hear what my father plans to build?” She snapped her fingers at a passing slav
e who was balancing a platter on his palm. He held out the tray and Julia handed the largest cup of wine to Marcellus, leaving Alexander and me to take our own. “He is going to begin his mausoleum,” she said merrily.

  “Excuse me,” I said. “I think I will go and sit with Octavia.”

  Alexander grabbed my arm before I could leave. “Where are you going?” he whispered in Parthian.

  “Where I won’t have to hear about Octavian’s mausoleum!” When he moved to come with me, I shook my head. “Stay here with Marcellus,” I told him. As I left, I looked behind me to make sure he wasn’t following. The sun had disappeared beneath the hills and the gardens were illuminated now by hanging lanterns. As I made my way through the crowded villa, I saw Octavian in his formal tunica Jovis standing with Terentilla in a corner of the triclinium. She was tracing the palm leaves on his tunic with her finger, and the two of them were laughing intimately. Neither of them looked in my direction, and it wasn’t difficult to make my way to the vestibulum and out the front doors into the dusk.

  I was surprised there was no one following me. Perhaps Octavian couldn’t imagine a scenario in which Alexander and I might try to escape, or perhaps we had simply finished being useful to him, and if we were foolish enough to run away, then our punishment would be of little consequence. I wondered what that punishment might be, and decided that whatever it was, I was willing to take the risk. My mother would want this, I told myself, making my way down the Palatine Hill. And if anyone sees me, they’ll simply think I’m another senator’s daughter.

  The sky was the color of blooming hibiscus, a red that turned to purple and gradually black. I didn’t know where I might find the Campus Martius, but I was determined to ask the priest in the small temple to Jupiter at the base of the hill. The noise of the festivities drifted down from above, and the sharp laughter of women made my heart race. Would one of them want to speak with me and find that I was gone? I walked as quickly as the steep incline would allow, being careful not to trip over my sandals.

  Bands of drunken men lumbered up the road, singing about Bacchus and inviting me to drink with them. “Come here, my pretty Egyptian queen. There’s a thing or two I’d like to teach you about Rome.” But I had seen enough leering drunks with my father to know that I must simply avoid their gaze. I made my way around several groups of men, but when one of them reached out to grab me, I was too slow.

  “Get off of me!”

  “What’s the matter?” His friends began to laugh, and he pushed his lips roughly against mine. “You’re not too young for paint.”

  He dragged me toward a copse of trees, and when I screamed, the laughter of his friends grew more distant. They’re leaving me with him to be violated, I realized. I kicked at his shins, but he wrestled me to the ground. His heavy stomach pushed against the front of my body, and I could feel his desire beneath his kilt. I turned my head to scream, but as his hand reached down to lift my tunic a shadow loomed behind him. There was the flash of a knife and suddenly my attacker grew still. I didn’t wait to see who the shadow was. I crawled through the darkness to the cobbled road, then ran the rest of the way down the hill. When I placed my sandal on the first step of the temple, a hand grabbed my arm and I cried out.

  “What do you think you’re doing?”

  Frightened, I turned around, and Juba shook me with both hands.

  “What are you doing out here?” he shouted.

  “I’m—”

  “Think carefully before you lie.” I didn’t say anything, so he guessed. “You were going to the Temple of Isis.”

  My eyes must have given me away, because he took my arm and wrenched me up the hill.

  “You’re hurting me!” I cried.

  “You were prepared to risk worse.”

  “Where are you taking me?” I was ashamed that my voice trembled. When he didn’t answer, I asked quietly, “Did you kill that man?”

  “Would you rather he lived?”

  We kept walking, and his grip on my arm was hurting. “You have no right to touch me.” I tried to pull away. “I’m a princess of Egypt!”

  “And what do you think makes a princess?” he demanded.

  I raised my chin. “Her education.”

  He laughed mockingly. “Her gold! Did you really think the High Priest was going to help you return to Egypt out of kindness? I saw what he gave you in the Temple of Jupiter, and there’s only one reason he would contact you. He wanted payment. Of one kind”—his eyes lingered on my diadem—“or another.” He made a point of studying the rip in my tunic.

  “No.” I shook my head. “Not a high priest of Isis.”

  “Oh no. And not a citizen of Rome. Do you understand what that man would have done to you?”

  “Of course!”

  “Then understand this.” He stopped walking, and his face was so close to mine that I could see the muscles of his jaw working angrily. “Women who walk the streets by themselves are kidnapped by men and sold as slaves. So far, Fortuna has smiled on you, although I have no idea why she wastes her time on such a pampered little girl. You have your brother in Rome, a tidy sum in the Temple of Saturn for whatever you need—”

  “I don’t have any sum.”

  “Of course you do,” he said bitterly. “I know because I transferred it there myself. So unlike some of us who were captured at war, Your Highness will never have to dirty her fingers to make her way in Rome. Octavia may want to see you survive, but I can promise you this. Fortuna’s smiles don’t last forever. And if I ever hear of escape or rebellion associated with your name, I will not bother to knife the next man in the back.”

  He released my arm and I staggered backward. “You’re Octavian’s man through and through,” I said, intending to insult him. But he only smiled.

  “That’s right. Everything belongs to Caesar.”

  “Not me!”

  “Yes, even you, Princess.”

  A group of men dressed as Egyptian pharaohs passed us by, but none of them looked in my direction. They all eyed Juba warily and then moved away. He caught my arm and we continued walking up the Palatine.

  “Where are you taking me?”

  “Back where you belong,” he said.

  In the vestibulum of Octavia’s villa, I heard footsteps coming toward us and held my breath.

  “Selene!” Octavia put her hand on her chest. I could see the shadows of Marcellus and Alexander behind her. “We couldn’t find you anywhere!” she exclaimed. “We thought you were—” She looked from me to Juba, and her expression grew wary. “You weren’t planning on running away?”

  “No,” he said. “I found her near the Temple of Jupiter. I think she was planning on making an offering.”

  Octavia studied me with her soft eyes, refusing to admonish me for what she must have known I’d attempted.

  When everyone had left, Alexander kept staring at me. “You didn’t really—?”

  I turned from him and stalked into our chamber. “I had a message from Egypt.”

  “What do you mean?” He slammed the door.

  “In the Temple of Jupiter, the High Priest of Isis and Serapis gave me a message.”

  In the lamplight, Alexander watched me, aghast. “And you thought you would travel across Rome to visit him? Without telling me?”

  “You would have said no!”

  “Of course I would have! Gods, Selene. How could you be so foolish? Ptolemaic rule of Egypt is finished.”

  “It will never be finished!” I ripped off my wig, too tired to bother with my paint and tunic. “As long as we are alive—”

  There was a sound outside our door, then a soft knock. Alexander glanced uneasily at me. “Come in,” he said. We both rushed to our couches and pulled the linens over our chests.

  Octavia appeared, and I was certain that she had come to reprimand me. She placed her lamp next to Alexander, then sat on the edge of his couch so that she could look at both of us. I held my breath.

  “Tomorrow, school will beg
in,” she said softly. “Gallia will take you to the Forum, where you will meet Magister Verrius near the Temple of Venus Genetrix. He will be the one to instruct you over these next few years.” When we didn’t say anything, she added, “Marcellus will be there, as well as Tiberius and Julia.” When there was still nothing either of us felt we could say, she asked awkwardly, “Did both of you enjoy the feast?”

  Alexander nodded against his pillow. “Caesar’s villa is magnificent,” he replied. But I knew he was lying. My mother’s guest houses had been larger than Octavian’s villa, and all of the lanterns in Rome could not have illuminated the smallest palace garden in Alexandria.

  But Octavia was pleased. “My brother is turning Rome from a city of clay into a city of marble. He and Agrippa have great plans.” She placed her hand tenderly on Alexander’s forehead, and I saw him flinch. “Sleep well.” She stood, then gazed down at me in a way that only Charmion ever had. “Valete,” she said softly. When she opened the door, I could see the figure of a thin, balding man waiting near her chamber. He wrapped his arm around her waist, and as the door swung shut, I sat up and looked at Alexander.

  “The architect Vitruvius,” he said.

  “The one who wrote De architectura?” He was the only Roman architect we’d ever studied in the Museion. “Are they—?”

  “Lovers? I guess. He came here to see your sketches, but you had disappeared. You should be thankful she isn’t going to tell Octavian. Instead, she came in here and wished us happy dreams. You have no idea how fortunate we are—”

  “And how is losing your kingdom fortunate? How is losing our brothers, our mother, our father, even Charmion and Iras, fortunate?”

  “Because we could be dead!” Alexander sat up. I heard the sound of a window opening in the chamber next door. I imagined it was Marcellus letting in the fresh air, and suddenly I felt hot. “We could be prisoners,” he went on, “or slaves like Gallia. You’re just lucky that Juba found you before someone else did!”

  My brother blew out the lamps, but in the darkness I could still see Juba’s eyes, full of anger and resentment.

 
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