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Cleopatras daughter, p.16
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.16

           Michelle Moran
 

  Vitruvius looked at Octavia. “You know that Caesar will never allow it.”

  “He may change his mind.”

  But Vitruvius shook his head. “He will marry her off, and if she’s lucky, Livia will not have a say in it.”

  “You mean, Livia may decide—?”

  “She’s my brother’s wife,” Octavia cut me off. “Anything’s possible. Which is why you must train her, Vitruvius. Show my brother that she has use beyond being some old senator’s wife. You can make her your apprentice.”

  Vitruvius laughed.

  “Why not?” she exclaimed. “When Octavian showed you her sketch of Alexandria you said it was inspired.”

  “It’s true. She has a gift. But what does she know about architecture?”

  “You can teach me,” I said. “I already know every type of tool that’s used in building, and every architectural style from Egypt to Greece.”

  Vitruvius shook his head. “Building sites are no place for a princess.”

  “Then take me with you in the mornings when you leave to do your inspections.”

  “Your son has no interest in architecture,” Octavia pointed out.

  The color rose in Vitruvius’s cheeks. “Yes,” he said bitterly. “He wants to be a lover and a poet!”

  “Then share your knowledge with me.”

  Vitruvius sat forward in his chair, and Octavia said persuasively, “My brother wants a mausoleum like Queen Kleopatra’s. Selene has probably sketched it a dozen times. At least give her the chance to help you with this.”

  Vitruvius regarded me in silence. Then finally he said, “Tomorrow at dawn. Meet me in this library.”

  I clapped my hands.

  “We will begin with Caesar’s mausoleum, and if I’m satisfied with your progress, I may teach you to build.”

  “Thank you. Thank you!”

  Octavia smiled. “Go. Or you’ll be late to the ludus.”

  I met Alexander and Marcellus on the portico and told them what had happened. And when Julia and Tiberius met us on the road, Marcellus said proudly, “Did you hear? Vitruvius wants to train Selene as an architect.”

  “Oh, I’m not sure he wants to,” I amended hastily. “It was Octavia’s idea. She pressured him.”

  Julia stared at me. “Why would she do that for you?”

  “To give me something to do,” I said awkwardly.

  “It’s more than that,” Marcellus protested. “She likes you.” I saw Julia’s back straighten. “You’re the half sister to her daughters, after all.”

  But it was strange to think of ten-year-old Antonia and seven-year-old Tonia as my siblings.

  “They’re not much like us, are they?” Alexander asked. We followed Gallia through the crowded streets toward the Forum. It was the last day of Octavian’s Triumph.

  “No, they’re quiet,” Marcellus reflected.

  “And charitable,” Tiberius added.

  “I’m charitable,” Marcellus protested. “I give in the Circus all the time.”

  My brother laughed. “And the bet-makers are thankful for it. Will we go again today?”

  “Of course.”

  “Your mother had Gallia give me several denarii.” Alexander patted a small leather bag at his side.

  “You didn’t tell me that!” I said.

  Alexander looked sheepishly at me. “Because you were with Vitruvius.”

  “And he really wants to teach you?” Julia asked suspiciously.

  “Your father wants an Egyptian mausoleum. Octavia convinced him that maybe I can help.”

  Julia was quiet for several moments, and I wondered whether she was jealous. “I’ve heard that Alexandria is beautiful,” she said at last.

  “The most magnificent city in the world.”

  “Greater than Rome?”

  I hesitated. “It was three hundred years in the making,” I said carefully. “All marble buildings perched above the sea.”

  “And your mother? Was she as beautiful as they say?”

  I blinked rapidly, so that I wouldn’t cry as we approached the ludus. “She wasn’t a traditional beauty,” I explained. “It was her mind.” Julia frowned. She didn’t understand that a mind could be beautiful. “And her voice. It drew men from every corner of the world.”

  “Like the Sirens,” Julia whispered. “I’ve seen her image in the Temple of Venus and wondered if that’s what she was really like.”

  Alexander and I stopped walking.

  “What image?” my brother asked.

  “Her statue in Julius Caesar’s Forum.”

  “And it’s still there?”

  Julia regarded him with a puzzled expression. “Of course. Where else would it be?”

  “But why didn’t your father tear it down?” I asked.

  “The statue of a queen?” Julia was shocked. “Because she was loved by Julius.”

  I glanced at my brother. “So all of Octavian’s rage against her was a lie,” I said in Parthian. “Just a piece of theater so that Rome would stand against her.”

  He turned to Julia. “Do you think we can see it?”

  “I don’t see why not. We can go after the exercises on the Campus.”

  We studied Homer’s Odyssey that morning, reciting passages about Odysseus’s travels on the wine-dark sea guarded by gray-eyed Athena. When we were finished, Gallia took us back to the Campus Martius, deftly navigating through the excited masses who were waiting for the last victory parade. On the marble portico in front of the stables, Juba and Agrippa were seated next to Octavian, who was showing his sister his plans for a series of buildings. I took a chair next to Antonia, and Livia was silent when I reached for my sketches.

  “These are the plans for the aqueduct in Naples,” Octavian was saying, “and this is the one for the Forum.”

  Octavia smiled. “And did Vitruvius give you the plans for my building?” she asked.

  Her brother unfurled a scroll at his side. “The restoration of the old Portico Metelli,” he said with relish, “now to be known as the Portico of Octavia, with three hundred new columns and two temples inside.”

  “I want there to be a public library within, as well.”

  Octavian took notes. “Good. Very good,” he added. “The plebs will like a library. What else?”

  “Perhaps a schola.”

  Livia’s cheeks grew flushed, and she put down her weaving. “Perhaps I should build a portico as well,” she said. “What do you think?”

  “That would be a grand gesture,” Agrippa remarked, but it was Octavian’s approval that Livia wanted.

  “Shall I fund my own building?” Livia asked him.

  Octavian peered out from under his hat. “Rome would be grateful for your generosity. But do you have enough time—?”

  “Of course,” she said swiftly. “For Rome, there is always time.”

  Octavian regarded her with fondness. “I am lucky in the women who surround me,” he said quietly, and Julia rolled her eyes at me. “I will make the notes and Vitruvius will hire the men next month.” He stood, and everyone who was riding rushed to follow him into the stables.

  When he was gone, Livia smiled. “A pair of porticoes,” she said to Octavia.

  “How generous of you.”

  She raised her brows. “The money has to go somewhere. In Gaul, your brother gave me copper mines. And in Judea, entire estates of palm groves. And do you know what he’s giving me in Egypt?”

  “A temple?”

  Livia narrowed her eyes. “Why would I want that? There’s no money to be made from a temple.”

  “Of course.” Octavia smiled. “It’s all about money.”

  Livia laughed. “Oh, I see your charity in the Subura. You think you aren’t paid for that with smiles, and respect, and women who scrape the floor to kiss your feet?”

  “No one has ever kissed my mother’s feet!” Antonia exclaimed, and everyone looked at her in shock. Even Vipsania, who was always giggling, covered her mouth.

  “
It’s still payment,” Livia said icily. “I just like my payment to be worth something.”

  “You are a crass woman,” Octavia said.

  “A crass woman with papyrus marshes. Dozens of them.” She grinned. “And there’s nothing half as profitable in the east as papyrus. Octavian is giving me my choice of fields. Perhaps Selene will help me choose the most valuable.”

  “That’s enough!” Octavia stood, and for a moment I wondered if she was going to strike her. “Gallia, you may take Julia and Selene shopping. Return here before the exercises are over.”

  Julia rose swiftly, amazed at her good fortune.

  “You may take Selene,” Livia said, “but Julia is not going.”

  “Julia is my niece,” Octavia said. “She is no blood relative of yours, and if I say she may shop, then she will shop. And if you make her life difficult for this, or I hear that you’ve punished her for obeying me, then my brother will hear of it.”

  Livia’s eyes flashed, but she didn’t move, and Julia took my arm. Gallia rushed us away from the Campus, and as soon as we were out of earshot, I whispered, “How do you live with her?”

  “She’s too busy watching Terentilla to notice me,” Julia answered.

  I looked at Gallia. “Thank you.”

  “It was Domina’s wish,” she said humbly. “I am only your escort.”

  “May we go by the Temple of Venus?” Julia asked. “Selene would like to see the statue of her mother.”

  “It is more than fifteen years old,” Gallia warned.

  “I’ll still recognize her,” I promised, but when we reached the end of Caesar’s Forum and entered the Temple of Venus Genetrix, Gallia saw my confusion and smiled.

  “Can you find her?”

  Inside the cool marble halls, priestesses stood guard over the temple’s works of art. There was a statue of Julius Caesar that was unmistakable, since Caesarion had looked so much like him, and a statue of Venus half-dressed in linen. I skipped the collection of sparkling gems, although this was what caught Julia’s eye, and I passed over a stunning metal breastplate adorned with pearls from Britannia. I went from statue to statue, and it was only by the Alexandrian diadem in her hair that I finally recognized her. “Is this it?” I gasped.

  “Kleopatra of Egypt,” Gallia replied.

  Julia came to my side and asked eagerly, “Is that what she looked like?”

  I studied the woman’s heavy breasts, her long Roman nose, and her pointed chin, then shook my head sadly. “No.” I could see that Julia was disappointed. “My mother was much thinner,” I told her. “With hands that were even smaller than mine.”

  “Really? What about her face?”

  Although the lips were correct, and the rich amber hue of her eyes, everything else was wrong. “She was plainer,” I admitted. “And her nose …” I hesitated. “It was different.”

  “So Caesar did love her for more than her beauty.”

  I nodded. “She could speak many languages. Egyptian, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syrian, Median, Parthian….”

  “Latin,” Julia put in.

  “Of course. And she lived very well.”

  “Is it true, what they say about her drinking the pearl?”

  I thought of the story my mother had often told to Alexander and me about her second meeting with our father. In an attempt to impress him with her wealth, she had promised him the most expensive feast ever consumed. When he arrived, there was a single goblet of wine on the table. She dropped her largest pearl into the goblet, and when the pearl dissolved she proceeded to drink the wine. I smiled sadly, remembering how my mother could be mischievous. “Yes. The pearl story was true.”

  “I wish my mother were so well known.”

  “Is she still alive?”

  Julia tensed. “Somewhere,” she said curtly, and didn’t elaborate. “I heard that your mother showed you how to use eye paints. Do you think if Gallia takes us to the shops, you could show me, too?”

  “Domina Livia would not like that,” Gallia warned.

  “But we can do it in secret,” Julia promised. “Please,” she begged. “We never have any fun.”

  Gallia hesitated, and in that moment she was lost.

  “Come!” Julia exclaimed. “We’ll go to the street of the Etruscans.”

  “Is that where Egyptian goods are?”

  “That’s where everything is!”

  Gallia dutifully led the way, and I wondered what the soldiers guarding us thought when they were forced to linger outside a shop for Egyptian aphrodisiacs and painted beads.

  “These were what we used for our hair,” I explained. “But only on days when there were official ceremonies.”

  Julia put her hands in the box of beads, enjoying the feel of the small faience trinkets as they ran though her fingers. “How many would we need?”

  “For your hair? You’re not really going to use them?”

  “Why not?” She grinned. “Tomorrow, we’re all going to the theater. Before we leave, I can come over, and you can put them in.”

  “Livia will never allow it, and neither will Octavia.”

  “Who cares what they think?” she asked merrily. “We’ll take them out before anyone can see.” When I hesitated, she gestured to the shopkeeper excitedly. “The entire box!”

  “E-everything, Domina?” the old man stammered.

  “Yes. Just hurry. You may send the bill to my father.”

  He didn’t have to ask who her father was.

  “Where shall we go next?” she asked eagerly, handing the purchase to Gallia. “I want to look just like a princess.”

  “You are a princess.”

  “A real one.” There was envy in her eyes. “With paints and silk tunics and all the things that women should wear if not for Livia. She’s just jealous, you know.” I followed her down the streets as she searched for an Egyptian cosmetics shop. “She wants everyone to be as plain and ugly as she is.”

  I noticed that Gallia kept silent, though secretly I was sure she agreed. “What about this shop?” Gallia asked.

  “Are there paints?”

  “Of every color.”

  We went inside, and Julia wanted a name for everything. Suddenly I knew how Marcellus must have felt when we were riding into Rome and my brother and I had asked him question after question.

  Julia held up a jar of ochre.

  “For the lips,” I said. “Sometimes for the cheeks.”

  She placed the jar on the counter. “What about something for the eyes? Like Terentilla.”

  “Domina!” Gallia gasped. “Terentilla is—”

  “A whore? I know,” she said brightly.

  “But she’s married to Maecenas,” I protested. “How could she be—?”

  “She was an actress. And we all know there’s not much difference between an actress and a lupa. But my father arranged their marriage.”

  “To one of his closest friends? How can he—?”

  “Oh, Maecenas isn’t interested in women. But he needed a wife, and my father needed an excuse for her to be near him.”

  “Then why not marry her himself?” I asked.

  “Terentilla? Because she doesn’t have a clan.”

  “None at all?”

  “Oh, I’m sure she has some clan. But they have no power to speak of. So what would he gain? But she’s beautiful, isn’t she? What do you think she uses for her eyes?”

  I glanced warily at Gallia, whose look was disapproving. “Malachite,” I said slowly, “with antimony to line them.”

  Julia gathered her purchases on the counter, and when the old man gave a total, Gallia exclaimed, “Nonsense! You are trying to overcharge.”

  “So what?” Julia said. “My father has plenty of denarii to give him.”

  Outside the shop, Julia passed her purchases to Gallia, who shook her head with deep misgivings. “We should hurry, Domina. The exercises will be over soon.”

  “But what about Selene?” She turned to me. “Isn’t there any
thing you want to shop for?”

  “I can’t. Alexander has our money.”

  She waved her hand in the air. “You can send the bill to my father. He’ll never know who bought it.”

  I smiled. “Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll get some new reed pens and ink.”

  “That’s it?” Julia wrinkled her nose, but even when she made such an unbecoming gesture, she was beautiful. A hundred women were walking around us, but men’s eyes still lingered hotly in her direction. “What about the theater?” she demanded. “What will you wear?”

  “Whatever Octavia gives me.”

  Julia shook her head. “Absolutely not. We both need new tunics.”

  “Domina!” Gallia protested faintly. “There is no time for that.”

  “Then we’ll just purchase the fabric! No fittings,” she promised, and disappeared into the next shop before Gallia could protest further. Inside, bolts of beautiful cloth shimmered in the afternoon light. Silks in peacock blue, celadon green, and pewter gray were laid out among plainer fabrics of every hue. Julia held up a swath of gold silk against my skin. “This would be beautiful.”

  “Domina Livia will never accept it,” Gallia warned.

  “Livia doesn’t accept anything.” She glanced wickedly at me. “Let’s get it anyway. What can she do once we buy it?”

  “She’ll take it back! An entire tunic of gold is not for the theater. And if Domina Octavia is offended, it will be the end of your shopping trips,” Gallia advised.

  Julia hesitated. “Fine. Then this one.” She chose a bolt of violet silk that would go nicely with her dark skin, and while she arranged with the shopkeeper where to send the bill, I studied the riot of colors on display. Perhaps I should begin to add color to my drawings, I thought. Jars of red ochre and dazzling azurite were sitting entirely useless in my chests. I wasn’t allowed to wear them on my face, so why not use them as additions to my sketches?

  As we left the shop, Gallia said sternly, “This is it. No more shopping anywhere. Understand?”

  “Yes,” Julia said with a hint of mockery. We followed Gallia through the Forum Holitorium, where vegetables were being sold in stalls along the Tiber, and Julia babbled gaily about how I was going to dress her hair, and which colors would go best with her eyes. “Violet,” she decided, “to match our new tunics. I’ll have our tailor make them tonight, and tomorrow, when I come over we can—”

 
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