Today’s story comes from a suggestion by Geoff Le Pard. Geoff suggested that I write a story featuring a known historical figure who is attempting to deal with a crisis. This ended up being a very intersting idea, and I decided to take a bit of creative liberty and write a short alterntive history piece.
I hope you enjoy what I have been able to come up with. Thanks again Geoff!
P.S. If anyone would like to offer me a prompt for another week, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!
A Crisis in Alexandria
By Adam Dixon
The time had come. Alexandria had fallen and Egypt was under Roman control. The muffled, distant sounds of marching and shouted orders could be heard outside the palace. Cleopatra cursed the pompous Octavian with all of her fury. How dare he treat her this way? Tucked away in her own palace like some precious ornament, guarded by one of his pets! It was a disgrace and an affront to all of the Gods! Indeed, the heathen had strayed too far this time, as all knew that the Pharaoh of Egypt was a living God herself…
A God, perhaps, but still a defeated one. Cleopatra was forced to recognise that fact. Her grand plans for Egypt and her Ptolemaic dynasty had crumbled around her, leaving her choking in its dust. Even her unions and alliances with Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius had not been enough. She had been cast aside by the politicians of Rome like an empty flagon; the toga-wearing, wine-addled old men had branded her a traitor once Antonius had fallen from favour. Octavian had wasted no time sending his troops to her shores, and for once even Antonius’ skills as a general had not been enough to keep her safe. Now Antonius himself was dead and Cleopatra faced humiliation back in Rome as part of Octavian’s Triumph. This was a crisis beyond which she had ever faced, but a solution had presented itself nonetheless.
“Your Excellency, it is time,” Iras, her maidservant urged, pulling Cleopatra from her thoughts. Cleopatra looked at the prone woman and nodded.
“Let us proceed, then,” she replied, her voice calm and steady, never betraying the unease which gripped her heart. Another servant, Charmion, flowed up to her and began to remove Cleopatra’s clothes. Her exquisite robes of state were as light as they were beautiful, and all who gazed upon the wearer knew of her power. They slipped from her sun-bronzed body and left her standing naked before them, the coolness of the room raising goose bumps on her skin. Bearing children had had its consequences, but Cleopatra was fortunate to have retained her sensuous figure. Octavian, infuriatingly, had been able to resist her charms; Cleopatra knew that if she had been younger this would not have been the case. Once she was stripped, Charmion helped Cleopatra to dress in the simple garb of a common Egyptian woman, hiding her face with a scarf and tucking her lustrous dark hair into it. A third maid, young and beautiful, stepped forward and looked expectantly at Cleopatra’s feet. Even when dressed improperly her servants knew it was not wise to look upon a Pharaoh directly.
“Dress her,” Cleopatra commanded, watching with a mixture of emotions as her servant was helped into her gorgeous robes. The girl was radiant despite her low birth, reminding Cleopatra strikingly of herself. That was good, that was the desired effect. Once she was dressed, Iras completed the look by placing Cleopatra’s ornate diadem atop the woman’s head, and Cleopatra almost gasped as it caught the evening sunlight in its dazzling perfection. By the Gods, was that how flawless she had looked whilst wearing it? If so, it was little wonder that she inspired the awe of her people!
“You are certain that the fool Epaphroditus is not at his post?” Cleopatra demanded. The woman Charmion bowed her head and spoke to her toes.
“Yes, Excellency,” her reply was meek. “My sister has him adequately… occupied.” Cleopatra nodded. If there was one thing she knew about Romans it was that they were rarely impervious to the allure of Egyptian women.
“You did not tell her what is afoot, as I commanded?”
“No, my Pharaoh. She knows not what we plan…”
“Good,” Cleopatra said, turning away from the pain in the girl’s face. She could not waver now!
“Everything is in place. Lie down and proceed as planned.” The imposter nodded and glided over to the divan. She lay down on the cushions, taking a moment to delve her fingers into them and enjoy the luxury. Cleopatra allowed it. After all, the woman would never have known such decadence, and the Gods knew that she deserved it. The woman glanced at the goblet on the marble table next to her and reached for it with a trembling hand. She lifted the heavy golden vessel, watching the dark purple liquid slop to and fro as she fought to keep her hand steady. The rich, sweet aroma of the wine filled the room as it was disturbed, with the pungent scent of deadly opiates lurking beneath. Iras and Charmion each took identical goblets and raised them to their lips, their faces white and their eyes on the ground. Cleopatra understood their fear. It was all she could do to hold her tongue and not beg them to stop. Instead, she addressed them in a regal tone.
“Loyal servants, you may gaze upon me,” she said, spreading her arms wide. The women gasped as one, their eyes remaining on the floor.
“I shall not harm you,” Cleopatra continued, her voice strong and commanding. “Look upon me and know that I am grateful to you.” Hesitantly, and with excruciating doubt the three women looked up at Cleopatra. Their eyes were full of fear, but also of pride. They were proud to aid their queen in such a way. Cleopatra felt her own pride swell her chest and dampen her eyes. By the Gods, those women were strong! Egypt could never fall if lowly servants possessed such bravery! Cleopatra smiled with an air of finality and nodded. The three women returned the nod and drained their wine as one.
The potion took effect immediately. The women gasped and spasmed, their goblets crashing to the floor. They clutched their stomachs and groaned, squeezing their eyes shut. Then they were still. Iras and Charmion fell to the floor, their young bodies slapping the polished stone and sending a jarring sensation up Cleopatra’s spine. Her imposter lay on her back, her features relaxed and her posture reclining. In death she looked beautiful, as flawless as any Pharaoh before her. Cleopatra touched a hand to her mouth and realised that she was weeping. That was only right, for those women deserved the tears of a God. She took a deep, shuddering breath and surveyed the scene with cold eyes. Everything had gone according to plan. There was only one detail left to secure.
Picking up a woven basket filled with figs, Cleopatra probed here and there with a gentle hand. Soon she felt movement beneath the fruit. Steeling herself, she plunged her hand into the basket and pulled out a wriggling, angry serpent. The asp was as dark as night and hissed and spat within her grasp. Cleopatra grimaced and tossed the snake towards the corpse of her servant. The asp opened its mouth and latched its fangs onto the woman’s breast, twisting its scaly body as it clung to her. Cleopatra observed it with a mixture of revulsion and excitement. Now her plan would succeed! Now her legacy was guaranteed!
Wiping the tears from her cheeks Cleopatra made to leave the chamber. She paused at the gilded door, listening. Satisfied that her guard was absent she pushed the door open and stole from the palace like a thief in the night. She left her home behind and made for the ocean, where her daughters had procured a ship for her. It was most undignified to flee in this manner, but she had done it once before. The Gods only knew what was in store for her now, but she had ensured that history would not forget her.