Every Last Kiss

Page 19

We made our way carefully down the stone stairs, but it was difficult as they were poorly lit.Pothinus grabbed a torch from the wall as we passed and held it in front of us to help light the way.

“Is Iras here?”I questioned again.“Where are we going?”

An earthy, musty smell clung to the inside of my nose and got stronger the further down we descended.It seemed as though I could almost hear water trickling from somewhere, but I couldn’t see where.

“Don’t worry about it,”the eunuch growled. “You’ll know when we get there.”

Apprehension began a slow build in my stomach. The further down we got, the further we got away from anyone who could help me if I needed it.The notion was unsettling at best and I quickly felt to see if my bloodstone was still hanging around my neck.And of course it was.I would have noticed if such a large rock had dropped off.

“Your queen is a nuisance,”he announced quietly as we continued feeling our way down the stairs.“Do you have any idea how long she and I have battled for the throne?She’s like a pesky fly… never giving up.”

“Is that what this is about?Have you somehow managed to cheat death… because you want the throne?”I couldn’t conceal my amazement.

“Don’t you know?”He stared at me with conceit.“I thought you knew everything.”

“Oh, I’m just a girl who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time,”I drawled. “I don’t know everything.”

“Annen made me a promise,”Pothinus snarled. “And I intend to hold him to it.”

“Then by all means, don’t let me stop you,”I replied.“But if it concerns Egypt, just know this.Cleopatra will not give up the throne to you.She won’t do it.”

“She won’t have a choice,”he replied smugly.

“No?She would gladly die fighting you.She’ll never give up,”I pointed out.“She hasn’t given up on a single thing since she was born. It’s not in her nature.She is quite willing to fight for what is right.”

He growled again.“What is right!?Isn’t that a matter of perspective?”

“I suppose it is,”I acknowledged.“But her priority has always been what is right for Egypt.I would imagine that is far different from yours.”

“You know far less than you think you do,”he sneered as we finally neared the bottom of the seemingly endless stairs.We stopped talking as I looked around.We appeared to be in a narrow canal, musty and dark, surrounded on both sides by moss-covered stone.Murky water flowed slowly and a small dingy was moored next to us.

Pothinus shoved me toward it.

“Get in!”he demanded.

For the first time, I resisted.I stood firm as I turned to him.

“Why?Where are we going?”

He smiled at me, a frightening vision in the dark.“Don’t question me.Do you want to see Iras alive?”

I considered the situation briefly.Of course I wanted to see Iras alive.But I also knew that I needed to make it out alive, as well, so that we would get half of history right, at the very least. He saw the uncertainty on my face and took a step toward me.

“I said get in the boat,”he growled.As he spoke, I saw a glint of metal from the edge of my periphery.I hadn’t thought that he had a weapon, but I was mistaken.He had a knife.I suddenly wished that I had strapped a dagger to my thigh.Why on earth hadn’t I thought of that?

I mutely stepped into the rickety little boat and sat on the bottom in silence, the splintery sidewall scraping my back.As Pothinus stepped in, the boat rocked vicariously to one side from his massive weight.I grabbed the sides to brace myself, clenching the side until my fingers turned numb.He finally got himself situated, even though the little boat remained sunken quite a bit on his end.

He picked up a wooden oar and began rowing smoothly down the murky canal.Just a few minutes later, we came to another water-filled passageway. He rowed our boat into it and we came out on the other side in a large room, brightly lit by at least twenty torches.Cleopatra’s resplendent golden barge was floating peacefully in front of us, filling up more than half of the space with its gigantic girth.

I was astonished.I had never actually wondered where they stored the royal barge when it wasn’t in use, but now that I thought about it, of course it made sense to keep it hidden… both for the safety of the queen and because it was expensive.Her barge was plated in gold.I couldn’t imagine how they managed to float it from the harbor to beneath this lighthouse.Creating those secret canal-ways must have taken a Herculean act of engineering.

As we rowed up to it, I marveled once again at its beauty.Its extravagance was unparalleled anywhere in the world.Three times as long as an average ship, it sparkled under the gentle light of the torches.Its magnificent purple sails were tightly rolled, but the thick richness of the cloth was apparent even from my viewpoint in the tiny dingy.

Silver oars were visible on racks and a portable jeweled throne sat on the mast, in exactly the spot that Cleopatra liked to sit while the barge was rowed down the Nile.Typically, several servants dressed as sea nymphs fanned her as we sailed. Cleopatra liked to say that I was dramatic, but honestly, she was as well. She had a flair for performing- and she loved a good spectacle. And whenever we took out this magnificent barge, it was certainly a spectacle.

Tonight, a muffled voice and heavy thudding caught my attention as we got closer.

“Iras?”I called uncertainly.My voice echoed through the large room, making it seem even more desolate and remote.

The muffled yelling got louder and more frantic, a sign to me that it was, in fact, Iras.

“What have you done with her?”I demanded.

“Oh, calm yourself.You’ll see the whore soon enough.”

“She’s not a whore, you disgusting pig,”I said through clenched teeth.“Where is she?”

He ignored me, focusing instead on pulling the dingy up close to the large ship.He moored it and we climbed out, but turned abruptly to walk up the extended plank of the barge.The moment we climbed aboard, I spotted Iras.

She was bound and gagged and laying directly on the plated gold deck of the barge.Her dark eyes flashed to me and widened once she recognized me.Her body instantly went still as she waited to see what would happen.

I took a tentative step toward her, but was stopped by Pothinus’ meaty hand restraining me.

“Not so fast,”he drawled.As I watched his face, I decided that his beady black eyes hidden under the fatty folds of his eyelids made him resemble a hog ready for slaughter.

“We need to discuss the little matter of the Bloodstone.”

My heart stopped as I stared at him in shock.How did he know about the Bloodstone?

“What do you mean?”I forced out. I tried not to shudder as I stared at his face.

“I need it.And I know that you have it.”

I was speechless as I watched him carefully.

“I know what you are,”he hissed.The blood drained from my face and I stood weakly in front of him.

“And what is that?”I asked limply.  

“Nevermind.I know.And I want that bloodstone.Hand it to me now and I will turn Iras over to you.”

How did he know?

My astonishment kept me rooted to the deck of the barge.My feet were concrete blocks.But there was no way I could give him the bloodstone.He would have to kill me first, although I certainly didn’t suggest that when I spoke.

“That’s not going to happen, Pothinus.And you should know that neither Iras or I are important enough to barter for it.Queen Cleopatra will not barter Egypt—not for anyone.If you took control of Egypt, it would be catastrophic.This whole little situation is futile.”

“It got your attention, didn’t it?”he snarled.“But it is not only Egypt that I am wanting now.I have expanded upon that quest for something more....important.With your Bloodstone, I can manipulate time- I can manipulate those around me into doing my will.My will. With your bloodstone, I can choose my fate.And there is nothing more important than that.”

He quickly smoothed out his face and turned to me again, apparently trying to seem cooperative.

“What you and Cleopatra don’t realize is that I don’t simply wish Ptolemy to rule Egypt.I wish to set everything right—restore magnificence to Egypt—take away the power of the Roman dogs.Isn’t that what Cleopatra would wish, as well?Isn’t that what she has wished all along- to undo Octavian’s atrocities?”

His cunning smile glinted in the soft firelight of the torches and I stared at him hesitantly.What was his strategy here?

“Of course Cleopatra has wished for that.She wanted nothing more than for Egypt to regain its power from Rome.However, the window of opportunity for that has passed.It is not what the Fates have planned for her or for Egypt.”

He scoffed.“Your queen is a bigger fool than I realized.We have all of the power in the world at our fingertips. And if we would work together…. Everything could be ours.Don’t you see that, Charmian?”

He tried appealing to me, gazing at me as though he only wanted the best for everyone involved.Was he really so foolish to think that I would fall for that?

“I thought you cared nothing for Egypt now?Pothinus, whatever angle that you are trying to work here, I know that you simply want personal glory.You want the history books to proclaim you as a ruler, a great man… but you are not.You’re not really even a man, are you?”

My backhanded reference to his lack of testicles was cruel and I saw on his face that my arrow had struck its mark.It was a sensitive subject.I continued before I could lose momentum.

“You were never royalty.You were and are… simply a misguided eunuch drunk with power who doesn’t want to give it up.And you are mistaken about my bloodstone.It can’t control fate.Fate was written long ago- I simply use the bloodstone to carry it out.Its power is limited.”

As I spoke, I circled around him slowly, never taking my eyes off of his face, but subtly getting closer to Iras, who was watching our exchange with wide, terrified eyes. She now knew of the bloodstone, although there was no way she could understand it without an explanation.I could only imagine her confusion.

“You don’t know as much about your own organization as you think, Charmian.Why do you think your memories are wiped clean each life?Do you really think it is to protect you against your own nature?Don’t be naïve,”he scoffed.

“It is so that none of you are tempted to manipulate the power that you are entrusted with.The bloodstones are more powerful than you’ve ever been told.Don’t be foolish, Charmian.Everyone enjoys power. It is intoxicating.If you share the bloodstone with me, I will explain its secrets and together, we will have more power than you have ever dreamed.”

“Don’t be absurd,”I answered weakly.Could he possibly be right about the bloodstone? Was it the key?  “I don’t wish to have power.I simply wish to do my job, to restore fate.”

“Do not act so superior- you cannot pretend that you do not enjoy the power of being Cleopatra’s confidante, of knowing that your advice helps shape an entire nation.You enjoy overseeing the palace and dispatching your wisdom to the queen…. Just as I did the same for young Ptolemy.You and I are not so different. We enjoy power.”

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