Every Last Kiss

Page 22

“Don’t think about it,”Ahmose advised.“Just get in there, find out what you can and return safely to the palace.”

Easy for him to say.It seemed that he always had the easy part- he got to sit back and watch me unfold Fate’s tapestry.I didn’t point that out for him, though. There was no use.The only way we would ever fix this mess and get things back to normal, was to begin by seeking out Annen, the most frightening man I’d ever met.  

Cleopatra was right.There was no time like the present, because we didn’t have much of a future left.  


The catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were actually built as a series of tombs in the bedrock beneath the city.However, they evolved into being a complex labyrinth of passageways that led to many locations throughout Alexandria, often secretly entering into one of the many temples.Oddly enough, by the time the catacombs were discovered by modern archeologists in the 1900’s, the passageways had all collapsed.Only the tombs remained.

Right now, however, they were perfectly intact…and very, very dark.Cleopatra and I stared down the empty, darkened hallway that led to the Serapis temple, both of us thoroughly creeped out by the scurrying noises emitting from the corridor.I felt fairly certain that there were even nastier creatures than rats and mice down here, but I wasn’t going to think of them…the kind of creatures with stingers on the ends of their curled tails or the huge, unhinged mouths with fangs.I shuddered.

Cleopatra lifted down a torch from the wall and lit it.

“Are you ready?”she asked, turning to me with a grimace.

She wasn’t any more excited than I was to be doing this.But it couldn’t be helped.We couldn’t be seen, so this was the only way.I nodded reluctantly and grasped her arm as we started walking.

We had worn sandals for this venture and I was now so very glad that we did.As we walked, I could hear the continual scurrying of animals that lived in the dark… and I was extremely glad that my bare feet weren’t going to bump into them.

Every twenty feet or so, we stopped so that Cleopatra could light a torch on the orange-ish clay wall, lighting the way for our return trip through the catacombs.So, behind us glowed softly, but the way in front of us still loomed in darkness.The blackness was all encompassing, chill inciting.And it smelled like a tomb.

Every so often, we would come to a side passage and I would pause in the dark doorway, wondering if we should turn.But every time, Cleopatra would shake her head.She seemed to know exactly where she was going.

“How do you know these passage ways so well, my queen?”I asked curiously.“I don’t recall coming down here with you.”

“Well, my love, you aren’t nobility, are you?”she answered a touch smugly.“I learned these routes from my father during the Cyprus uprisings.We memorized escape routes.”She glanced at my face and added, “And don’t worry about not being nobility- you aren’t missing much.At least your siblings haven’t tried to kill you.”

I had to smile.It was true.Each of her sisters, Arsinoë and Berenice had tried to have her assassinated.I could remember even back in our nursery days, Cleopatra had been afraid to drink or eat things that had been sitting around her sisters- for fear that they would try to poison her.It wasn’t the most emotionally healthy way to grow up.

In fact, her sister Berenice had tried to overthrow their own father for the throne, but failed.He had her beheaded soon after.So much for close family ties, although Cleopatra’s relationship with their father was much better… mainly because she respected his authority and made it clear from the get-go that she only wanted to learn how to make Egypt grow.It was apparent from the time she was small that Egypt was her top priority. 

She had disliked her little brothers because she felt that they were useless. They were spoiled and lazy- and she had little use for that.She had spent her days growing up learning languages, Egyptian custom and educating herself.Her brothers had spent theirs whining, playing and backbiting.

Regardless, Cleopatra had always denied to me that she had her little brother Ptolemy XIV killed. The physicians weren’t able to determine a cause of death, although they suspected poison.Cleopatra swore to me at the time that it hadn’t been her- and I believed her. She had never lied to me.There was no point- she didn’t answer to me.And besides, Arsinoë was much more ruthless than Cleopatra.It could just as easily have been her.

“Why are you so distracted, Charmian?”Cleopatra asked curiously as we walked.“You seem to be miles away from here.”

“You are very perceptive, my queen,”I smiled.“I was just remembering your childhood.It’s a wonder that we made it this far with all of the deception and murderous trickery.We probably should have been dead long ago.”

“Bite your tongue, Charmian!”she exclaimed softly.“Things happened the way that they were supposed to happen.Isn’t that the song you keep singing?My sisters were vipers, only out for their own profit.My brothers were pathetic.None of them had Egypt’s good at heart.”She made a pfft noise as she wrinkled her nose in disdain.

I nodded.“I know, Cleopatra.But I’m still surprised that we have made it this far.”

“Well, let us not muck everything up now, my sweet.”At her words, she stopped outside of an inscribed door, the short train of her deep purple sheath dress dragging on the floor.The Serapeum. Temple to the goddess Serapis.I turned to Cleopatra in apprehension.

“Cleopatra, Ahmose has very powerful magic.The fact that he is sending us here to Annen, makes me nervous.I can’t imagine how powerful this priest must be if he possesses knowledge that Ahmose does not. Let us tread lightly in here.”

She nodded solemnly in agreement before she pushed the door inward and we walked through.Almost immediately, a priest appeared in the doorway, his face startled.As soon as he saw Cleopatra, however, he dropped to his knees, face down on the sandstone floor.

“My queen,”he murmured into the stone.“We didn’t expect you today.I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was you.”

“Please rise,”she commanded.“We’re here on a whim.”

The priest rose from his knees, holding onto the wall to steady himself.He was older, his face lined with wrinkles.  In the typical custom of the priests, his head was closely shaven.Writing and designs were carefully drawn upon his bare arms and chest with kohl, the moist blackness starting to smear only along the edges.

“My queen, how can we assist you?”

The priest was certainly eager to please her, his black eyes anxiously waiting for her orders.He had started to back down the hallway leading into the bowels of the temple.Already, the heady scent of the incense was beginning to envelop us.

“I am searching for someone.The priest, Annen.Have you seen him?”

The priest froze, apprehension clearly written all over him.“Your majesty?”

“Annen,”Cleopatra repeated firmly.“Is he here?”

I could see on the priest’s face that he was.I waited patiently to see if the priest would confirm it. After just a moment, he did.

“Yes, my queen,”he murmured with a small bow of his head.“He is.Follow me and I will take you to him immediately.”

Cleopatra threw me a sidelong glance and I followed her up the long inclined hallway.We passed the enormous oblong room that served as a library for Alexandria… it was crammed full of thousands of rolled up papyrus scrolls, shelf after shelf of them.Yet another archeological find that would never be discovered.I shook my head at the loss.It seemed so senseless that these important things would be destroyed by ignorant soldiers…it was simply the way it would work out.But it was still a pity.

We passed every main underground room and the priest led us into a darkened section.I felt myself tense up.Since I knew that Pothinus was lurking somewhere around Alexandria, my protective instincts were on overdrive. The cold darkness under this temple caused my hackles to rise.I didn’t like the feeling.

Entering a small, poorly lit room at the end of a deserted hall, I could just barely make out the silhouette of a hooded man seated behind a desk, surrounded by scrolls.I could tell that he looked up as we approached, but I couldn’t see his face.

“Annen?”The priest approached him tentatively, almost reverently. “Queen Cleopatra is here to see you.”

“Of course.Thank you, my friend.”Annen stood before he lowered himself carefully onto the ground in front of Cleopatra.I could practically hear his old bones creak.

“Your highness,”he uttered.

“Annen, it is good to see you. Please rise,”Cleopatra instructed.“We’ve been searching for you.We have heard that you may possess knowledge that we are in need of.”

Well, so much for small talk.But Annen didn’t seem bothered.He nodded understandingly, almost as though he expected it… and us, for that matter.

“Of course you have,”he agreed.“I am glad that you have come.”

He rose from the floor and lit an oil lamp on the desk.I didn’t bother to ask him why he had been sitting in the dark.As a High Priest, he did many strange things, I was sure.My mind flitted back to that pesky cannibalism rumor and I shuddered.I reminded myself that it was just a rumor.I couldn’t prove it.

Looking at Annen now, though, I wouldn’t doubt it.He was so creepy that it was chilling and that was putting it mildly.It wasn’t just his appearance, although that was unnerving enough.His slanted obsidian eyes were fathomless, bottomless.They glittered with unexplainable knowledge, missing nothing. His fingers were long and crooked and the backs of his wrinkled hands were tattooed with incantations to Anubis.Looking at him gave me shivers.

Annen turned his black gaze to me now, making me uncomfortable.It felt as though he was looking directly into my thoughts.

“Charmian, my lady, you do not wish to be here,”he observed.“Do not trouble yourself.No harm will come to you here,”he said reassuringly.

He patted my arm and the curls of his nails scraped the soft skin of my wrist, touching the outline of my birthmark.I tried not to shudder. 

His eyes darted to mine as he quickly lifted my wrist and examined it. I could feel the exhale of his moist breath on my skin.

“My mother was a Keeper in your honorable organization, my lady. Did you know that?”He released my arm gently and clasped his hands, staring at me again with his knowing eyes.

“You lie,”I accused, my cheeks instantly flushing with agitation. “Keepers cannot bear children.”I heard Cleopatra’s sudden gasp but ignored it.

“That is true,”he admitted. “I apologize, my lady.I misspoke.I should have specified that she was my adopted mother.She raised me from the time I was an infant and she was the only mother I knew.”

My alarm quelled slightly.He wasn’t lying.Adoption.Briefly, it seemed like a good idea.But it wasn’t feasible.I was fated to die an untimely death in every life.That wasn’t exactly fair to a child.

“She explained her role to you?She broke her vows?”

He stared at me gently, his face suddenly kind.

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