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Cleopatras daughter, p.3
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.3

           Michelle Moran
 

  “However,” Octavian added, “I will allow them a burial with Marc Antony in the mausoleum that you have prepared.”

  “Caesarion!” my mother cried, while Octavian turned his eyes away. “Not Caesarion!” Her favorite. Her beloved. There was heartbreak, and betrayal, and a mother’s deep anguish in her voice, and that was when I knew the evocatio had worked. The gods had really abandoned Egypt for Rome. I wept into my hands, and my mother tore madly at her clothes.

  “Stop her!” Octavian rose angrily.

  Agrippa held her arms, but my mother shook her head wildly. “He was your brother!” she shouted. “The child of Julius Caesar. Do you understand what you’ve done? You’ve murdered your own brother!”

  “And you murdered your own sister,” Octavian replied coolly.

  My mother lashed out with her feet, but Octavian easily avoided her wrath.

  “In three days, I will sail with you and your children to Rome, where you will take part in my Triumph.”

  “I will never be paraded through the streets of Rome!”

  Octavian gave Juba a sideways glance, then rose to depart. When he reached the door, my mother cried out. “Where are you going?”

  “To the Tomb of Alexander, the greatest conqueror in the world. Then on to the Gymnasium, where I will address my people.” He turned, and his gray eyes settled on me. “Shall your children come?”

  I ran from the bed and fell to my knees at my mother’s feet. I wrapped my arms around her legs. “Don’t send us with him. Please, Mother, please!”

  She was shaking uncontrollably. But instead of looking down at me, she was watching Octavian. Something seemed to pass between them, and my mother nodded. “Yes. Take my children with you.”

  “No!” I cried. “I won’t go.”

  “Come,” Juba said, but I wrenched my arm from his grasp.

  “Don’t make us go!” I screamed. “Please!”

  Ptolemy was crying, and Alexander was pleading with her.

  At last she threw up her hands and shouted, “Go! Iras, Charmion, get them out of here!”

  I didn’t understand what was happening. Charmion pushed us toward the door, where my mother embraced Alexander. Then she came to me, touching my necklace and running her hands over my hair, my arms, my cheeks.

  “Mother,” I wept.

  “Shh.” She put a finger on my lips, then took Ptolemy onto her lap, burying her head in his soft curls. I was surprised that Octavian waited so patiently. “You listen to whatever Caesar says,” she told Ptolemy. “And you do as you’re told, Selene.” She turned to my twin brother. “Alexander, be careful. Watch over them.”

  My mother stood, and before her face could betray her entirely, Charmion shut the door, and we children were alone with our enemies.

  “Walk next to me and keep silent,” Agrippa said. “We go first to the Tomb of Alexander, then on to the Gymnasium.”

  I held one of Ptolemy’s hands in mine, and Alexander held the other, but it was as if we were walking through a foreign palace. Romans occupied every room, sniffing out our riches to fill Octavian’s treasury. The carved cedar chairs, which had graced our largest chambers, had disappeared, but everything left was being taken. Silk couches, cushions, ebony vases on towering silver tripods.

  I whispered to Alexander in Greek, “How does he know these men aren’t stealing things for themselves?”

  “Because none of them would be so foolish,” Juba responded. His Greek was flawless. Alexander’s eyes were full of warning.

  For the first time, Octavian looked at us. “The twins are handsome children, aren’t they? More of their mother than their father, I think. So you are Alexander Helios?”

  My brother nodded. “Yes. But I go by Alexander, Your Highness.”

  “He is not a king,” Juba remarked. “We call him Caesar.”

  Alexander’s cheeks reddened, and I sickened at the thought that he was speaking to the man who had killed our brothers. “Yes, Caesar.”

  “And your sister?”

  “She is Kleopatra Selene. But she calls herself Selene.”

  “The sun and moon,” Juba said wryly. “How clever.”

  “And the boy?” Agrippa asked.

  “Ptolemy,” Alexander replied.

  The muscles clenched in Octavian’s jaw. “That one’s more of his father.”

  I tightened my grip protectively on Ptolemy’s hand, and as we reached the courtyard in front of the palace, Agrippa turned to us.

  “There will be no speaking unless spoken to, understand?” The three of us nodded. “Then prepare yourselves,” he warned as the palace doors were thrown open.

  Evening had settled over the city, and thousands of torches burned in the distance. It seemed as though every last citizen of Alexandria had taken to the streets, and all of them were making their way to the Gymnasium. Soldiers saluted Octavian as we approached the gates, with right arms held forward and palms down.

  “You can forget a horse and chariot,” Juba said, surveying the crowds.

  Octavian stared down the Canopic Way. “Then we will go by foot.”

  I could see Juba tense, and he checked the sword at his side and the dagger on his thigh. He was younger than I had first assumed him to be, not even twenty, but he was the one Octavian trusted with his life. Perhaps he would make a mistake. Perhaps one of my father’s loyal men would kill Octavian before we sailed for Rome.

  We waited while a small retinue was gathered, some Egyptians and Greeks, but mostly soldiers who spoke Latin with accents that made them hard to understand. Then we began the walk from the palace to the tomb. Every dignitary who came to Alexandria wished to see it, and now Octavian wanted to pay obeisance to our ancestor as well.

  I wished I could speak with Alexander, but I kept my silence as I had been instructed, and instead of weeping over my father, or Antyllus or Caesarion, I studied the land. Perhaps this will be the last night I will ever see the streets of Alexandria, I thought, and I swallowed against the increasing pain in my throat. On the left was the Great Theater. I tried to remember the first time my father had taken us there, climbing with us to the royal box that was erected so high it was possible to see the island of Antirhodos. Beyond that was the Museion, where my mother had sent my father to become cultured, and professors had taught him Greek. Alexander and I had begun our studies there when we were seven, walking the marbled halls with men whose beards fell into their flowing himations. North of the Museion were the towering columns of the Library. Half a million scrolls nestled on its cedar shelves, and scholars from every kingdom in the world came to learn from the knowledge stored inside. But tonight, its pillared halls were dark, and the cheerful lamps that had always lit the porticos from within had been extinguished. The men who studied there were making their way to the Gymnasium to hear what would become of Egypt now.

  I blinked back tears, and as we reached a heavy gate, a Greek scholar whom I had often seen in the palace produced a key from his robes. We were about to enter the Soma, the mausoleum of Alexander the Great, and as the gate was drawn open Agrippa whispered, “Mea Fortuna!”

  I noted with pride that even Octavian stepped back. I had sketched the building a dozen times, and each time Alexander had wanted to know why. He wasn’t moved as I was by the luminous marble dome, or the beautiful lines of heavy columns that stretched like white soldiers into the night.

  “When was this built?” Octavian asked. Instead of turning to either Alexander or me, he looked at Juba.

  “Three hundred years ago,” Juba replied. “They say that his sarcophagus is made of crystal, and that he’s still wearing his golden cuirass.”

  Now Octavian turned to my brother and me. “Is it true?”

  When I refused to answer him, Alexander nodded. “Yes.”

  “And the body?” Agrippa asked Juba. “How did it come here?”

  “Stolen, by his cousin Ptolemy.”

  We passed through the heavy bronze doors, and the scent of burning lavender
from a tripod filled the empty antechamber. Torches blazed from iron brackets on the wall, sputtering in the rush of night air we’d let in. The priests here had not abandoned their duties, and an old man in golden robes appeared.

  “This way,” he said, and it was clear we were expected.

  We followed the old man’s footsteps through a maze of halls, and the soldiers who had chattered all the way there like monkeys, without ever once pausing for breath, were silent. In the dull glow of the priest’s lamp, the men regarded the painted exploits of Alexander. I had sketched these images so many times that I knew them by heart. There was the young king with his wives Roxana and Stateira. In another scene Alexander was lying with Hephaestion, the soldier he loved above all others. And in a last mosaic he was conquering Anatolia, Phoenicia, Egypt, and the sprawling kingdom of Mesopotamia. Octavian reached out and touched the painted locks of Alexander’s hair.

  “Was he really blond?”

  The priest frowned, and I was certain he had never heard such a question before. “He is depicted on these walls as he was in life, Caesar.”

  Octavian gave a small, self-satisfied smile, and I realized why he had wanted to come. Facially, there did not appear much difference between the painting of Alexander and Octavian. Both men were fair, with small mouths, straight noses, and light eyes. Now Octavian imagined himself as Alexander’s heir, the next conqueror not just of Egypt, but of the world. Hadn’t his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, already begun the conquest for him?

  We reached a flight of stairs descending into greater darkness, and I heard Ptolemy whimper. “It’s only a few steps down,” I whispered, and when I saw that he was going to protest, I put my finger to my lips.

  The priest led the way, and the only noise was the whisper of our footsteps and the crackling of torches. Juba was the last to descend. When the door swung shut behind us, my brother let out a frightened cry. Immediately, Alexander put his hand to Ptolemy’s mouth.

  “Not here,” he whispered angrily. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

  But no one was paying attention to Ptolemy. In the dimly lit chamber, the men’s gazes were fixed on the crystal coffin of the world’s greatest king. The air smelled heavily of embalming spices: cinnamon, myrrh, and cassia.

  Octavian approached the coffin with hesitant steps, and the priest pulled back the lid so that everyone could observe Alexander as he had been. There was a gasp of admiration throughout the chamber, and even Ptolemy wanted to draw closer.

  “Only thirty-two,” Octavian said. The king’s face was beautiful in its three-hundred-year repose; his arms against the muscled cuirass were still pink with flesh and strikingly large. Octavian called Agrippa and Juba to his side, and although Octavian’s hair was a similar gold, it was Juba, with his broad shoulders and impressive height, who most resembled Alexander. In the poor light of the tomb, I studied the Numidian prince. From his hobnailed sandals to his scarlet cloak, he was every bit a Roman soldier, and only his long dark hair betrayed his ancestry.

  “Agrippa, the crown,” Octavian said, and from the folds of his cloak Agrippa produced a thin golden diadem of twisted leaves. Octavian placed it carefully on Alexander’s head, and as he straightened, he caught sight of the Conqueror’s ring. He bent closer to inspect it, and when he saw that it had been engraved with Alexander’s profile, he announced, “This shall be the ring of Imperial Rome.”

  “But, Caesar, that belongs—”

  Agrippa turned, and the priest’s protest died on his lips.

  Octavian held the stiff hand of Alexander, but as he tugged on the ring his elbow swept back and there was a sickening crunch.

  “His nose!” the priest cried. Octavian had broken off Alexander’s nose.

  There was a moment of terrified silence. Then Octavian exclaimed, “What does it mean?” He spun around. “Shall I send for the augurs?”

  “No,” Juba said.

  “But then what does it portend?”

  “That you will break the Conqueror’s hold on the world and reconquer it yourself,” Juba replied. His dark eyes gleamed, and though I thought he was being sarcastic, Agrippa nodded.

  “Yes, I agree.”

  But Octavian didn’t move, and his hand with the golden signet ring was frozen over the king’s body.

  “It can only be a good sign,” Agrippa repeated.

  Octavian nodded. “Yes…. Yes, a sign from the gods,” he suddenly declared, “that I am the successor of Alexander the Great.”

  The priest asked meekly if Octavian wished to visit the rest of our ancestors. But Octavian was too full of his prophecy.

  “I came to see a king, not a row of corpses.”

  I looked back at the shattered face of the great man who was responsible for the long reign of the Ptolemies, and wondered if Egypt would have a similar fate.

  Although Juba and Agrippa had proclaimed the breaking of Alexander’s nose a good portent, Octavian’s retinue fell into an uneasy silence as we made our way up the stairs through the Soma. But the throngs of people in the streets—soldiers, Alexandrians, foreign merchants, even slaves—were loud enough to wake the gods. The soldiers were rounding up every Alexandrian they could find.

  “What’s happening?” Ptolemy worried.

  “We’re going to the Gymnasium,” Alexander said.

  “Where Father gave me a crown?”

  Juba raised his brows. Although Ptolemy had only been two and could not have had many memories from that time, he clearly recalled the Donations of Alexandria, when our father had seated himself with our mother on a golden throne and proclaimed our brother Caesarion not just his heir, but the heir to Julius Caesar as well. That evening, he’d announced his marriage to our mother, even though Rome had refused to recognize it. Then he’d given Alexander the territories of Armenia, Media, and the unconquered empire of Parthia. I’d received Cyrenaica and the island of Crete, while Ptolemy became king of all the Syrian lands. Although the Ptolemies wore simple cloth diadems bedecked with tiny pearls, our father had presented us with gold-and-ruby crowns, and this was what had stayed in Ptolemy’s memory. Only now, those crowns were being melted to pay Octavian’s men, and we were the inheritors of dust.

  Alexander’s lips turned down at the corners, and I knew he was fighting back tears as well. “Yes, that is where Father made you a king.”

  We approached the Gymnasium, longer than two stadia, and a murmur of surprise passed among the soldiers. Surrounded by shaded groves, the porticoes had been carefully plastered with gypsum so that even in the moonlight they glittered. But Octavian didn’t stop to appreciate the beauty. He twisted the ends of his belt in his hands.

  “Repeat to me what I wrote,” he instructed.

  Agrippa quickly unfurled a scroll he had been keeping in his cloak. “First is the matter of the city itself,” he said.

  Octavian nodded. “And then?”

  “The matter of how many citizens will become slaves in Rome.”

  Octavian shook his head curtly. “None.”

  Agrippa frowned. “Your uncle took a hundred and fifty thousand men from Gaul. When Marius …”

  “And what did he get for it?”

  “Spartacus,” Juba broke in contemptuously. “An uprising of slaves who didn’t appreciate what Rome had given them.”

  “That’s right. There is enough gold in the queen’s mausoleum to pay every man who’s ever fought for me. This time, we don’t pay them in slaves.”

  “And the men who wish to take women?” Agrippa asked.

  “Let them pay for whores.”

  We reached the steps of the Gymnasium, and a phalanx of soldiers with heavy shields formed a wall between us and the people. Suddenly, I couldn’t go on.

  “What are you doing?” Alexander hissed.

  But I was too afraid to move. Armed men surrounded the Gymnasium, and I wondered what would happen if Octavian decided to set fire to the building. There would be chaos, women and children crushed as men scrambled over their bodi
es to escape. But their paths would be blocked by Roman soldiers. The doors would be barred, as they were at my mother’s mausoleum. I stood at the base of a long flight of steps, and Agrippa came to my side.

  “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “Caesar wouldn’t have kept you alive this long if he intended to kill you tonight.”

  Of course not, I realized. He wants us alive for his Triumph.

  I followed Agrippa’s red cloak up the stairs. Inside the Gymnasium, thousands of people fell to their knees in silent obeisance.

  Octavian quipped, “I see why Antony liked Egypt so much.”

  “You are Pharoah,” one of the soldiers remarked. “They’ll dance naked in the streets if that’s what you wish.”

  Juba smirked. “I thought the Egyptians did that anyway.”

  For the first time, I saw Octavian smile, and as we mounted the dais I wondered if Alexander felt as sick as I did. Our father had told us how Octavian had ordered the massacre of every last captive at the Battle of Philippi. When a father and son had begged for mercy, Octavian determined that only one should live and ordered the father to play morra with his child. But the old man refused, asking for his life to be taken instead, and nineteen-year-old Octavian himself had wielded the blade that executed him. And when the son wished to commit suicide, Octavian had mockingly offered him his own sword. Even my father, no stranger to battle, had seen only cruelty and single-mindedness in this pretender to Caesar’s throne.

  When we reached the top of the dais, Octavian held out his arms. He wore only a simple tunic of chain mail beneath his toga, and I wondered again whether there was a brave Alexandrian who might give his life to rid Egypt of its conqueror. “You may rise,” he said into the silence.

  The sound of thousands of unbending bodies echoed in the torch-lit Gymnasium. All along the perimeter, next to every window and heavy cedar door, armed soldiers stood seven deep in case of revolt. But the people stood silent, and when Octavian began his speech I saw men holding their breaths in anticipation of what was to come. When he explained that there would be no taking of slaves, that the city could not be blamed for the errors of its rulers, and that every soldier who had fought against him would be pardoned, the silence remained. “For Egypt does not belong to Rome,” he announced. “It belongs to me, the chosen heir of the Ptolemies. And I always protect what is mine.” Women shifted their children on their hips, looking to their husbands in confusion. Octavian’s cruelty was known throughout Egypt.

 
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