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Cleopatras daughter, p.2
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.2

           Michelle Moran
 

  “Stop it,” I said irritably.

  “You should go to her.”

  I looked up the stairs to the second story, where my mother was sitting on a carved wooden couch. Her silk dress fluttered in the warm breeze, and she was staring out at the sea. “She’ll be angry.”

  “She’s never angry at you. You’re her little moon.”

  While Alexander Helios had been named for the sun, I had been named for the moon. Although she always said her little moon could never do anything wrong, I hesitated.

  “You can’t let her sit there alone, Selene. She’s afraid.”

  I mounted the steps, but my mother didn’t turn. Clusters of pearls gleamed in her braids, while above them, the vulture crown pointed its beak to the sea as if it wished it could leap away and take flight. I joined her on the couch and saw what she was watching. The wide expanse of blue was dotted with hundreds of billowing sails. All of them were pointed toward the Harbor of Happy Returns. There was no battle. No resistance. A year ago our navy had suffered a terrible defeat at Actium, and now they had surrendered.

  “He’s a boy,” she said without looking at me. “If he thinks he can keep Antony’s half of Rome, then he’s a fool. There was no greater man than Julius, and the Romans left him dead on the Senate floor.”

  “I thought Father was Rome’s greatest man.”

  My mother turned. Her eyes were such a light brown as to be almost gold. “Julius loved power more than anything else. Your father loves only chariot races and wine.”

  “And you.”

  The edges of her lips turned down. “Yes.” She gazed back at the water. The fortunes of the Ptolemies had first been shaped by the sea when Alexander the Great had died. As the empire split, his cousin Ptolemy had sailed to Egypt and later made himself king. Now, this same sea was changing our fortunes again. “I have let Octavian know I am willing to negotiate. I even sent him my scepter, but he’s given me nothing in return. There will be no rebuilding Thebes.” Sixteen years before her birth, Thebes had been destroyed by Ptolemy IX when the city had rebelled. It had been her dream to restore it. “This will be my last day on Egypt’s throne.”

  The finality in her voice was frightening. “Then what do we have left to hope for?” I asked.

  “They say Octavian was raised by Julius’s sister. Perhaps he’ll want to see Julius’s son on the throne.”

  “But where do you think Caesarion is now?”

  I knew she was picturing Caesarion, with his broad shoulders and striking smile. “In Berenice with his tutor, waiting for a ship to take him to India,” she said hopefully. After the Battle of Actium, my eldest brother had escaped, and the princess Iotapa, who had been promised in marriage to Alexander, had fled back to Media. We were like leaves being blown about by the wind. My mother saw the look on my face, and took off her necklace of pink sea pearls. “This has always brought me protection, Selene. Now I want it to protect you.” She placed it over my head, and its golden pendant with small onyx gems felt cold against my chest. Then her back stiffened against the wooden couch. “What is that?”

  I held my breath, and above the crashing waves I could hear men pounding on the door below us.

  “Is it he?” my mother cried, and I followed the silk hem of her gown to the bottom of the stairs. Alexander was in front of the door, and his face was gray.

  “No, it’s Father,” Alexander said. But he held out his hands before she could come closer. “He tried to kill himself, Mother. He’s dying!”

  “Antony!” my mother screamed, and she pressed her face against the metal grille in the door. “Antony, what have you done?” Alexander and I couldn’t hear what our father was saying. Our mother was shaking her head. “No,” she said, “I can’t…. If I open this door, any one of your soldiers could seize us for ransom.”

  “Please!” Alexander cried. “He’s dying!”

  “But if she opens the door—” Charmion began.

  “Then use the window!” I exclaimed.

  My mother had already thought of it. She was rushing up the stairs, and the five of us followed swiftly at her heels. The mausoleum wasn’t complete—no one could have predicted it would be needed so soon. Workmen’s equipment had been left behind, and my mother shouted, “Alexander, the rope!”

  She flung open the lattice shutters of the window overlooking the Temple of Isis. Below, waves crashed against the eastern casements. I can’t say how long it took for my mother to do the unthinkable. Of course, she had Alexander and Iras to help. But as soon as our father’s bloodied litter on the ground below was fastened to the rope, she lifted him two stories and moved him onto the floor of the mausoleum.

  I stood with my back pressed against the marble wall. The happy sound of the gulls outside had faded, and there were no more waves, or soldiers, or servants. Nothing existed but my father, and the place where he had pushed his own sword between his ribs. I could hear Alexander’s ragged breathing, but I couldn’t see him. I only saw my mother’s hands, which came away bloodied from my father’s tunic.

  “Antony,” she was crying. “Antony!” She pressed her cheek to my father’s chest. “Do you know what Octavian promised after the Battle of Actium? That if I had you killed, he would let me keep my throne. But I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it!” She was becoming hysterical. “And now … what have you done?”

  His eyelids fluttered. I had never seen my father in pain. He was Dionysus, larger than life, bigger than any man who stood next to him, faster, stronger, with a louder laugh and a wider smile. But his tanned good looks had gone pale, and his hair was wet with perspiration. He looked unfamiliar without his Greek robes and crown of ivy, like a mortal Roman soldier struggling to speak. “They said you were dead.”

  “Because I told them to. So you would flee, not kill yourself. Antony, it’s not over.” But the light in his eyes was growing dim.

  “Where are my sun and moon?” he whispered.

  Alexander led me forward. I don’t think I could have crossed the chamber without his help.

  My father’s eyes fell on me. “Selene….” He took several deep breaths. “Selene, will you bring your father some wine?”

  “Father, there’s no wine in the mausoleum.” But he didn’t seem to understand what I was saying.

  “Some good Chian wine,” he went on, and my mother sobbed. “Don’t cry.” He touched her braids tenderly. “I am finally becoming Dionysus.” My mother wept loudly, and he had enough strength to grasp her hand in his.

  “I need you to stay alive,” she begged, but our father had closed his eyes. “Antony!” she screamed. “Antony!”

  Outside the doors of our tomb, I could hear the Roman soldiers approaching. Their chanting carried over the water, and my mother clung to my father’s body, grasping him to her chest and pleading with Isis to bring him back.

  “What is that?” Alexander asked fearfully.

  “The evocatio,” Charmion whispered. “Octavian’s soldiers are calling on our gods to switch sides and accept them as the rightful rulers.”

  “The gods will never abandon us!” my mother shouted, frightening Ptolemy with her rage. He buried his head in Charmion’s lap as Mother stood. My father’s blood stained the blue silk of her gown; it soaked her chest, her arms, even her braids. “Downstairs!” she commanded. “If they try to break down the door, we will set fire to every piece of wood in that chamber!”

  We left my father’s body on his litter, but I turned to be sure he wasn’t moving.

  “He’s gone, Selene.” My brother was weeping.

  “But what if—?”

  “He’s gone. And the gods only know what’s happening to Antyllus.”

  I felt a tightening in my throat, as if the air I was breathing suddenly wasn’t enough. At the top of the stairs, my mother handed daggers to Charmion and Iras. “Stay here and watch the windows,” she commanded. “If they force their way in, you know what to do!”

  My brothers and I followed my mother’s blo
odied steps to the first floor. Outside, soldiers were beating on the door and pressing their faces, one by one, to the grille.

  “Stand behind me,” my mother instructed.

  We did as we were told, and I dug my nails into Alexander’s arm while our mother approached the door. There was the muffled sound of voices as she appeared before the grille, and then a man on the other side of the door told her to surrender. She raised her chin so that the vulture’s carnelian eyes would look directly at this Roman soldier. “I will surrender,” she told him through the iron bars, “when Octavian gives me word that Caesarion will rule over the kingdom of Egypt.”

  We moved closer to the door to hear the soldier’s reply.

  “I cannot give that assurance, Your Majesty. But you may trust that Octavian will treat you with both respect and clemency.”

  “I don’t care about clemency!” she shouted. “Caesarion is the son of Julius Caesar and the rightful heir to this throne. The Ptolemies have ruled over Egypt for nearly three hundred years. What do you propose? To have Roman rule? To burn down the Library of Alexandria and do murder in the streets of the greatest city in the world? Do you think the people will stand for it?”

  “Your people are already falling over themselves to show deference to Caesar Octavian.”

  My mother reeled back as though the man had slapped her from the other side of the door. “He has taken Julius’s name?”

  “He is the adopted son and heir of Gaius Julius Caesar.”

  “And Caesarion is Caesar’s son by blood! Which makes them brothers.”

  I had never thought of it this way, and as I moved forward to glimpse the soldier’s face in the window, a man’s arm caught me around the waist, and I felt the cold tip of metal at my neck.

  “Mother!” I screamed, and before Alexander could leap forward to defend me, a line of soldiers descended the stairs from the second story. They had come through the open window. Two held Iras and Charmion, and a third held Ptolemy by the arm.

  My mother unsheathed the dagger at her waist, but a broad-shouldered Roman caught her wrist in his hand while another man unlocked the door.

  “Let go of me!” My mother’s voice was a sharp warning, and although she had no power to command Roman soldiers, once the man had disarmed her, he freed her wrist. He was built like my father, with well-muscled legs and a powerful chest. He could have snapped her arm if he had wanted to. I wondered if this was Octavian.

  “Take them to the palace.” His words were clipped. “Caesar will wish to see her before he speaks with the people of Alexandria.”

  My mother raised her chin. “Who are you?” she demanded.

  “Marcus Agrippa. Former consul of Rome and commander in chief of Caesar’s fleet.”

  Alexander looked across the chamber at me. Agrippa was the general who had defeated our father at Actium. He was the secret behind every one of Octavian’s military successes, and the man our father had feared above any other. His face was round, and although I knew from our father’s descriptions that he was already thirty-one or thirty-two, he looked much younger.

  “Agrippa.” My mother caressed his name like silk. She spoke Latin to him, and though she knew eight languages flawlessly, her words were accented. “Do you see this treasure?” She indicated the leopard skins on the floor, and the heavy chests wrought from silver and gold that nearly obscured the rugs from view. “It can be yours. All of Egypt can be yours if you wish. Why give it to Octavian when you are the one who conquered Antony?”

  But Agrippa narrowed his eyes. “Are you proposing that I betray Caesar with you?”

  “I am saying that, with me, you would be accepted as Pharaoh, by the people. There would be no war. No bloodshed. We could reign as Hercules and Isis.”

  The man holding my arm chuckled softly, and my mother’s eyes flicked to him.

  “You are asking Agrippa to betray Octavian,” he said. “You might as well ask the sea to stop meeting the shore.”

  Agrippa clenched the hilt of his sword. “She is desperate, and doesn’t know what she’s saying. Stay here with the treasure, Juba—”

  “Juba.” My mother said his name with as much loathing as one word could carry. “I know you.” She stepped forward, and Juba unhanded me. But there was nowhere for me to run. The mausoleum was surrounded by Octavian’s soldiers. I stood next to Alexander as our mother advanced on the man who wore his black hair longer than any Roman. “Your mother was a Greek, and your father lost his Kingdom to Julius Caesar. And now look.” Her gaze shifted from his leather cuirass to his double-edged sword. “You’ve become a Roman. How proud that would have made them.”

  Juba clenched his jaw. “If I were you, I’d save my speeches for Octavian.”

  “So why isn’t he here?” she demanded. “Where is this mighty conqueror of queens?”

  “Perhaps he’s looking over his new palace,” Juba said, and the suggestion robbed my mother of her confidence. She turned to Agrippa.

  “Don’t take me to him.”

  “There is no other choice.”

  “What about my husband?” She drew his gaze toward the top of the stairs, where my father’s body lay illuminated by the afternoon sun.

  Agrippa frowned, perhaps since the Romans did not recognize our parents’ marriage. “He will be given a burial that befits a consul.”

  “Here? In my mausoleum?”

  Agrippa nodded. “If that’s what you wish.”

  “And my children?”

  “They will be coming with you.”

  “But what … what about Caesarion?”

  I saw the look that Agrippa passed to Juba, and I felt a tightening in my chest.

  “You may ask Caesar yourself what will become of him.”

  CHAPTER TWO

  MY MOTHER paced her room. She had changed from her blood-stained gown into one of purple and gold, colors that would remind Octavian that she was still Queen of Egypt. But even the new pearl necklace at her throat didn’t disguise the fact that she was a prisoner. The red plumes on the helmets of the Roman soldiers waved in the breeze outside every window, and when my mother had tried to open the door to her chamber, soldiers were posted there, as well.

  We were hostages in our own palace. The halls that had rung with my father’s songs now echoed with the gruff commands of hurried men. And the courtyards, where evening was beginning to fall, were no longer filled with servants’ chatter. There would be no more dinners on candlelit barges, and never again would I sit on my father’s lap while he recounted the story of his triumphant march through Ephesus. I pressed closer to Alexander and Ptolemy on my mother’s bed.

  “Why is he waiting?” My mother paced the room, back and forth, until it made me sick to watch her. “I want to know what’s happening outside!”

  Charmion and Iras implored her to sit down. In their plain white tunics, huddled on my mother’s long blue couch, they reminded me of geese. Geese who don’t know that they’ve been penned for slaughter. Why else would Octavian be keeping us under guard? “He’s going to kill us,” I whispered. “I don’t think he’s ever going to set us free.”

  There was a knock, and my mother froze. She crossed the room and opened the door. “What?” She looked at the faces of the three men. “Where is he?”

  But Alexander scrambled from the bed. “It’s him!” He pointed at the man who was standing between Juba and Agrippa.

  My mother stepped back. The blond man with gray eyes wore only a simple toga virilis. Although extra leather had been added to his sandals in order to increase his height, he was nothing like the man my father had been. He was thin, fragile, as unmemorable as one of the thousands of white shells that washed up daily along the shore. But what other man would be wearing the signet ring of Julius Caesar? “Then you are Octavian?” She spoke to him in Greek. It was the language she’d been born to, the language of official correspondence in Egypt.

  “Don’t you know any Latin?” Juba demanded.

  “Of course.”
My mother smiled. “If that’s what he prefers.” But I knew what she was thinking. Alexandria possessed the largest library in the world, a library even larger than Pergamon’s, and now it would all belong to a man who didn’t even speak Greek.

  “So you are Octavian?” she repeated in Latin.

  The smallest of the three stepped forward. “Yes. And I presume you are Queen Kleopatra.”

  “That all depends,” she said as she sat down. “Am I still the queen?”

  Although Juba smiled, Octavian’s lips only thinned. “For now. Shall I sit?”

  My mother held out her hand toward the blue silk couch with Iras and Charmion. Immediately they stood and joined my brothers and me on the bed. But not once did Octavian’s gaze flicker in our direction. He had eyes only for my mother, as if he suspected she might grow wings like those on her headdress and take flight. He seated himself while the other men remained standing. “I hear you have tried to seduce my general.”

  My mother threw Agrippa a venomous look, but didn’t deny it.

  “I’m not surprised. It worked on my uncle. Then on Marc Antony. But Agrippa is a different kind of man.”

  Everyone in the room looked to the general, and although the power of kings rested on his shoulders, he glanced away.

  “There is no one more modest or loyal than Agrippa. He would never betray me,” Octavian said. “Neither would Prince Juba. I suppose you know that his father was King of Numidia once. But when he lost the battle against Julius Caesar, he gave his youngest son to Rome and then took his own life.”

  My mother’s back straightened. “Is that your way of telling me I shall lose my throne?”

  Octavian was silent.

  “What about Caesarion?”

  “I am afraid your son will not be able to take the throne either,” he said simply.

  Some of the color drained from her face. “Why?”

  “Because Caesarion is dead. And so is Antyllus.”

  My mother gripped the arms of her chair, and I covered my mouth with my hands.

 
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