Cleopatra's Daughter, p.37Michelle Moran
Gallia rushed to my side. “Selene, he was attacked. He had no chance.”
Tears blurred my vision, then suddenly my mind was as clear as ever. I remembered Augustus’s letter to Octavia. “You want to know who did this?” I demanded.
“Yes,” Juba said.
“Then find Octavia! Tell her to bring you Augustus’s letter!”
Juba frowned at me.
“Do you think I’m lying? Find Augustus’s letter!” I shrieked.
I heard a slave go running, and when he returned, Octavia was with him.
She handed the scroll to me with trembling hands. “What do you want?” she asked nervously. “What’s in the letter?”
I read the first line to myself, just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken, but it was there. On this, the fifteenth year of their birth, I hope you will wish the Gemini well. The Gemini. Meaning Castor and Pollux. The twin sons of Leda, and the brothers to Helen of Troy. Except Castor was killed, leaving Pollux all alone.
I continued reading, only this time, louder:
When I return, it will be my foremost duty to see that a good marriage is made. Be sure to warn Princess Selene, so that when the time comes she has made herself ready.
Tears burned my cheeks, and I looked from one face to the other. “A good marriage,” I repeated. “One! And why just one?” I shouted angrily. “Because he knew my brother would never be married!” When Octavia gasped, I sat up and read: “ ‘There is nothing nearly as momentous as the passing from childhood to adulthood, and it is an occasion that merits serious consideration.’ If these words aren’t a death sentence, then what is? He wanted Alexander dead! The last of the Ptolemies. Antony’s son. And at fifteen, a man!”
“No!” Octavia wouldn’t believe it. “No,” she whispered.
Agrippa said firmly, “We will find these men, and they will be tried.”
But it was a lie. All of it was a lie. Augustus had paraded us through the streets of Rome and made a show of raising us before the people. But always, in the back of his mind, he knew that my brother would never live to wear the toga virilis. First Caesarion, then Antyllus, now Alexander …
Thunder clapped overhead, and I heard Juba say, “Leave the princess alone. She needs her rest.” When Octavia hesitated, he told her firmly, “Go and tend to Lucius.”
My other half. My twin. “How will I live without him?” I whispered.
Gallia placed a warm cloth on my head. “By getting some sleep.”
“But I don’t want to sleep!” I sat up and searched the room desperately. “I want to see him.”
“He’s being dressed for burial.”
“Where?” I cried. “In an unmarked grave? Beneath a plain tombstone on the Appian Way?” I looked up at Juba. “You must have known about this,” I accused.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Only one man on the Palatine kills for Augustus.”
His jaw worked angrily. “And that man isn’t me.”
“I want you to leave.” When he didn’t move, I screamed violently, “I want you away from here!”
Hurt flickered across his face, then he turned and walked toward the door.
“Juba!” Gallia called after him.
“What are you doing?” I demanded. “He knew about this. He probably planned it!”
“Don’t be a fool,” Gallia said strictly. “He would never do such a thing!”
“How do you know? Who else knows Augustus’s closest secrets?”
“His wife,” she said when Juba was gone. “Livia knows everything.”
“And Livia isn’t here!”
“But her slaves are.” She pushed me firmly to the couch. “They will find them,” she promised, “but you must rest. There is nothing you can do for him now.” Her voice broke, and though she turned, I could see that she was crying.
But she was wrong. There was still one thing I could do.
I WOULDN’T let him be buried without a mausoleum, and because Octavia feared that the last of the Ptolemies would end her life by suicide, she wrote to Augustus, and he approved. My brother’s body was kept in the Temple of Apollo while workers from the Pantheon, the basilica, and the baths worked day and night for three months to finish. And in the time it took to build his tomb, I saw no one unless they came to me.
When Marcellus first heard the news of my brother’s death, he’d sworn vengeance on Livia and even Augustus, but I’d warned him that if he spoke a word against his uncle, he would suffer next. It was better to wait, I told him. To bide his time until he became emperor. But as winter melted into spring, he was still angry, and even when the Red Eagle posted acta across Rome denouncing the imperial family as murderers who treated their guests like slaves, killing them off with impunity, he wasn’t satisfied. No perpetrator had been found for the crime, and though Lucius survived and could describe his assailants, nothing was done. No one spoke of how Alexander had been found in Lucius’s room. It was as if their love had never existed.
I ate alone. I worked alone. And when I asked Octavia to move me from the chamber I had shared with Alexander, she placed me next to Antonia, who came to me at night and brought me food.
“Do you think you will return to the triclinium?” she asked.
It was April, and I shook my head. “Not until the mausoleum is done.”
“But it’s finished,” she protested. “His funeral is tomorrow.”
I blinked away my tears. The priests of Isis and Serapis had embalmed my brother’s body, and I had gone to visit him every day in the temple. What would it be like not to have him near me? “I’m not sure the tomb is done,” I said.
“But what will you do?” Antonia cried. “Work on it forever?”
I turned and looked at her. She had her mother’s gray-eyed innocence. “Yes, I will.” And I would make the mausoleum my second home. When Augustus returned and married me off to some decrepit senator, I would leave my husband as often as possible. And when he’d go searching for me, he’d find me sleeping by Alexander, the two of us together in a marble eternity.
Antonia’s eyes filled with tears. “But it isn’t natural.”
“No. And neither was my brother’s death.”
The funeral began on the Palatine, and as the procession wound its way through the streets, thousands of people came to see the murdered Prince of Egypt. He was borne on a bier, carried by slaves, and preceded by the imperial family. I walked at his side, while Lucius and Vitruvius walked behind me. I could hear Lucius weeping, the deep, heart-wrenching cries of a man completely gutted by grief, and if I hadn’t been so embittered I might have gone to offer him some comfort. But I had no reserve of sympathy left in me. It had been cut away with Alexander’s life.
As we reached his mausoleum on the Appian Way, I wondered which of the people among us had been responsible for my brother’s death. But everyone’s mourning appeared genuine, and whenever Octavia looked on Alexander, sobs racked her body. An Egyptian embalmer had disguised the wound across my brother’s neck, and if not for the thin layer of gauze across his face, Alexander might have been sleeping. The beautiful curls he had taken such care of were still dark and lustrous, topped by his pearl diadem. He was the last of the male Ptolemies and my only hope for returning to Egypt. He was my twin and my closest friend. And now, his short life was over.
We entered the cool recesses of the tomb, and Julia stifled a sob with her fist. The marble plaque she had purchased to celebrate our birthday hung above the sarcophagus. When Castor, who was mortal, had died, his immortal twin chose to join him in the sky. They were the Gemini, and now Alexander had gone to Elysium to wait for me.
The priests of Isis and Serapis lifted my brother’s body from the bier into the coffin, singing Egyptian hymns that no Roman would recognize. And when I placed my book of sketches in Alexander’s sarcophagus, I saw Vitruvius cover his eyes with his hand. As the lid was lowered my knees grew weak, but Marcellus steadied me, and I saw Juba flinch
Then Roman hymns were sung, and Maecenas read a long poem in honor of the Ptolemies. Even Tiberius was shaken. His eyes were red as if he’d been weeping, and when he placed a heavy wreath at the front of the tomb, I noticed that his hands were unsteady. But when the ceremony was finished, I could still smell the oil of cedar and myrrh used to perfume my brother’s body, and as long as it lingered, I wanted to remain in the mausoleum.
“Selene,” Lucius said when all the others had left and were standing outside. “I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t say anything to him.
“I’m sorry it wasn’t me. Because I know that’s what you wanted.”
Tears welled in my eyes, and my guilt became unbearable. I took my brother’s lover into my arms, and the pair of us wept together. “It was the will of Isis,” I told him, which only made him weep harder.
“I don’t know. Only she knows.” When our tears were spent, I looked at Lucius, and I was sure he had aged ten years in those three months. “There’s a reason you weren’t killed,” I said. “The gods are saving you for something great. You have a patron.”
“But what does it mean without Alexander?”
What did anything mean? I let him walk me out into the sunshine, and I felt angry with the world, with the sun for still daring to shine when my life was so dark.
Although everyone expected I would rejoin Octavia’s meals in the triclinium, I remained shut away in the library, sketching additions to Alexander’s mausoleum and the shrine I wished to purchase for him in the Forum.
One afternoon Julia came to the library with a letter. She could see that I was working on something for Alexander, but she interrupted me anyway and said, “You should see this.”
She offered me the scroll and I read, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” They were Plato’s words. I looked up at her.
“For you,” she said quietly.
“Me.” When I was silent she continued, “We will find whoever did this, Selene.” But her words died away at my look.
“It’s been four months,” I reminded her harshly.
“I know. But my father won’t be emperor forever. And when I become empress, I swear to you, there won’t be a plebian in Rome who doesn’t remember Alexander. But you can’t go on living this way,” she pleaded, “afraid of being happy, afraid of the light.”
“It makes me happy to be in the dark,” I told her.
But Julia gave me a disbelieving look. “You go to his mausoleum every day. What do you do?”
“I plan. I work!”
“And how much more work can there be?”
“Plenty. I want to build a shrine.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “And then what?”
“Maybe a statue,” I said, giving back her scroll. “Possibly a bust.”
“And where does it end? What will you do? Spend until your treasury is gone?” She was shaking her head. “It’s too much, Selene. You have to live. When my father returns—”
“Then I’ll be forced to live. Only I won’t have to worry about being separated from Alexander, because he’s already gone!”
Her lower lip trembled, and she pushed Plato’s words toward me. “I’m sorry,” she said, though for what I wasn’t sure.
I watched her leave, then summoned two of the guards to take me to the Appian Way. As we walked down the Palatine, Juba saw me and stepped forward.
“What?” I demanded. “Are you here to kill me as well?”
“I hope you’re joking.” He glanced uneasily at my guards.
“Augustus saved my brother like a bull for the slaughter, so why shouldn’t I be next? And who better to do the job than you?”
I turned to leave, and he whispered something to the light-haired guard. The man nodded gravely, and, as we left, I didn’t bother asking him what had been said. But when we reached the mausoleum and I saw what had been done, I spun around.
“Who did this?” I gasped.
The light-haired guard replied, “Juba.”
Next to the sarcophagus, in the only light of the chamber, stood the most magnificent statue of Alexander that any sculptor could have crafted. He was sculpted in marble, with eyes painted brown and hair that clustered in perfect ringlets around his diadem. I went to the statue and touched his face, his nose, his lips, his chin. It was as though he were alive, and nothing I could ever have commissioned would have equaled what this artist had done.
I approached the light-haired guard and asked him, “Are you sure?”
He nodded. “We helped him bring it here.”
Deep humility and regret silenced me, and the dark-haired guard whispered kindly, “There are many men who will miss your brother. You are not alone.”
“Then you don’t think Juba killed him?” I whispered.
The men exchanged looks. “Princess, why would he kill a man he was helping to support?”
When I didn’t understand, the dark one explained. “Who do you think has been putting all that gold in your treasury since you’ve been here?”
Both guards made a face, and the light-haired one said, “Maybe she gave you a couch and food, but it was Juba’s denarii in the Temple of Saturn. We should know. We counted the coins.”
I looked from one guard to the other. “But … but why?”
“Maybe he felt sorry,” the dark one speculated. “His mother was a Greek. Captured and sold into slavery when she was young. It was his father who freed her. Then both of them met their end the same as your parents. He knows what it’s like to lose a kingdom and have to work even for the tunic on his back.”
I thought of all the gold my brother had squandered at the races, and the times when I had purchased furs and silks without ever questioning how the money had appeared. Then suddenly an image came to mind of the Greek statue that Juba had found for the Pantheon, and a deep flush crept across my cheeks. Gallia had thought the Venus looked like Terentilla, but that wasn’t why Juba had wanted it. There had been a tender expression in his eyes when I’d caught him looking at me that afternoon. Perhaps his help had been charity at first, but now….
As I hurried back to the Palatine, I tried not to think of Juba’s full, solemn lips turning downward when I’d accused him of Alexander’s murder. How many times had he watched me pining for Marcellus? And how could Marcellus have understood our suffering?
That evening, I decided to appear in the triclinium. For more than four months, I’d worn only black, but Gallia picked out a tunic of deep violet and gold, something my brother had once praised when I wore it, and commanded me not to weep while she brushed soft azurite above my eyes and a little ochre on my lips.
There was a surprised murmur in the room as I entered, and I noticed with a pang that the table where Alexander and I used to sit was no longer there. Instead, it had been moved next to Octavia and Vitruvius, and this was where Marcellus and Julia were reclining. Immediately a space was made for me next to Juba, whose strong profile was silhouetted against the candlelight. As I took my seat, there was an uneasy silence.
“Welcome back,” Claudia said, and each person offered a quiet welcome. Then, slowly, conversation resumed, and it was as if I had never been gone. They were careful not to laugh too much, and even Tiberius held his tongue. But it was Juba who concerned me most, and finally I turned to him.
“I was wrong,” I said.
“About what?” he asked shortly.
“You. I underestimated your … your generosity. And the statue of my brother was very kind.”
“It wasn’t for you. It was for Alexander.”
I flushed. “Either way. It was very thoughtful and—”
“He’s coming back?” I exclaimed.
Juba regarded me gravely. “With fifty thousand members of the Alpine Salassi.”
“As prisoners of war?”
“Slaves,” Tiberius said. “Although only Juno knows where they’re going to fit in a city already swimming with Gauls.”
Everyone looked at me, and I realized why I hadn’t been told. They didn’t want me to panic. They were afraid I might take my own life the way my mother took hers when everything was lost and Augustus was on the horizon. From the first time he had seen us in Alexandria, Augustus had known when my brother would die. A grown son of Marc Antony and Kleopatra would be a rallying point across the empire; a threat not only in Egypt but in Rome. There had never been hope of returning to Egypt no matter how hard we worked to become useful to him.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Julia asked quickly. “Marcellus and I are going to the theater.”
I shook my head.
“You should go,” Octavia prompted. “It’s a Greek play tonight.”
“Sophocles,” Marcellus said.
“No. I think I will go to my chamber.”
Vitruvius gave a meaningful look to his son, so I wasn’t surprised when someone knocked on my door that evening and it was Lucius.
“Did your father send you?” I asked.
For a moment, Lucius considered lying. Then he admitted, “Yes. But I would have come anyway.”
I let him inside, and his eyes grew big. It was a little Egypt, with rich swaths of red silk hanging from the walls, and bronze incense burners in the shape of sphinxes. An ankh hung over my couch next to an image of Isis. I no longer cared if I upset Augustus or if the slaves wrote to Livia about my chamber. What more could be done to me? What else could I lose?
“So is this what Alexandria is like?” Lucius asked.
I laughed sadly. “A pale imitation.”
He seated himself on my leather chair, casting about for something to say. “I guess you’ve heard that the Senate has voted to give Augustus tribunician power for life. That’s even bigger than the consulship.”
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes