Every Last Kiss

Page 7

She smiled back, her hateful mood broken.

“You’ve got that right,”she agreed.“You’re as cheeky as ten people put together.”

And just like that, she was fine.The storm clouds hovering above us dissipated, the sunshine of her smile returned.As she ventured outdoors onto her balcony, I knelt in front of the little girl.

“You may go now and resume your duties.Don’t be upset with our good queen.She has much on her plate- more worry than you can imagine.”

The girl nodded solemnly, appearing surprised that I would even suggest that she was upset with Cleopatra.

“Thank you,”she whispered and was out of the room like a shot.I couldn’t blame her.

“Charmian, come here!”Cleopatra called.

I crossed the room to her side and leaned over the stone balcony railing with her.The sea was pristine and tranquil, the blue water foaming gently against the shore.  She tilted her head back, closing her eyes as the sun bathed her face in its warm glow. I closed my own, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. I could practically taste the salt in the air, but it was far from unpleasant.

“Thank you for reigning me in, sweet.”

The queen’s voice was low and I startled at her words, my eyes popping open.She wasn’t one to thank someone.She usually showed her gratitude with her actions, not her voice.

“I fear that I have been taking out my troubles on everyone around me.That is not good form and I’m sorry for it.”

I stared at her in shock and she turned to me laughing.

“Charmian, do close your mouth.You’re going to trap flies.”She elbowed me in the ribs before she turned once again to the horizon, her expression becoming serious once again.

“I just… my responsibilities are bearing down on me and I fear that I will lose everything.”

Her almond-shaped eyes welled up as she stared at a massive statue of her father, Ptolemy Auletes, standing at the base of the hundreds of stone stairs leading up to the palace. He was carved from white marble and majestically stared out to sea, his regal expression forever frozen on his face.

To the side of the palace, the treasures of our city stretched as far as I could see.Limestone buildings, marble statues, intricate brick streets and walkways.A colossal stone head of Caesarion, Cleopatra’s son, was carved into a hill in the distance.A stone’s throw away, two majestic granite sphinxes gracefully rose from the horizon, their leonine bodies gracefully lounging as their pharaoic heads stared blankly at the city.

It was a lot to lose.And she would definitely lose it.She just didn’t know it yet.

“Times are becoming so difficult, Charmian, and I must admit that I am afraid.But what makes it even worse is that I can’t speak about it to anyone else but you, because I must be strong.Even for Antony.”

At the sadness in her voice, I followed her gaze.

And my breath caught in my throat. On the edge of the Mediterranean, just where the water met the sand, Marc Antony, Cleopatra’s husband and commander of her armies, was sparring in the Roman style with his favorite general.

Each holding their heavy iron shield in front of them, they lunged and parried with their gleaming swords in practice for the battles they knew were coming.It felt like my heart stopped beating as I watched.

Each of them was beautiful in his own unique way.Marc Antony was large and stout, his dark curly hair tumbling across his forehead as he bent forward and then back, splashing in the shallow water.His large biceps bulged and flexed as he hefted his shield to block Hasani’s deft blows.  Antony’s profile was distinct and I recognized him immediately.But he did not hold my attention.That was captured by Hasani.

Hasani was tall and strong, his silky black hair gathered at the nape of his neck in his usual style.His dark brow was furrowed in concentration, emphasizing his strong features.His teeth gleamed in the sunlight as he grinned at his opponent, laughing as he deflected Antony’s heaving blows.His muscular thighs flexed as he lunged and I gasped at his obvious strength.Modern girls were missing out- there was nothing sexier than this.I made a conscious effort to begin breathing again.

“Look at them,”Cleopatra murmured.“So brave and strong. They are training to fight for me, Charmian, and I will fail them, I can feel it.I feel it in my heart that I am going to fail Egypt.”

Her voice was both heartbreaking and heartbroken, and sadness welled up in me at the sound of it.Never, in our entire lives, had I heard Queen Cleopatra be anything but confident and strong.She had never doubted herself before.

“They have no idea of their fate. They’re like lambs led to slaughter…”her voice caught and a tear escaped from the corner of her eye and slid down her smooth cheek.I wiped it away gently, careful not to smudge her eye makeup.

“Don’t think about it right now,”I insisted.“You have good reasons for the decisions that you are making.If you don’t negotiate with Octavian, he will crush Egypt with Roman forces.If you tell Antony about the negotiations, he will want to stop it- he will never agree to surrender.You know that. You have made the right decision, my queen.”

My role as Keeper had come back to me fluidly, easily.I knew her current course of action was the right one, but I had to swallow hard, because her decisions were going to be the death of the men we loved.I had seen it.

Cleopatra was formulating a back-up plan.Even though she fully intended to fight, she was secretly arranging a surrender of her forces to Octavian in exchange for leniency for her children just in case it started to look as though we would lose.In such a case, we both knew that Antony would never give up. He was too Roman, too proud.He would fight to the death- and Hasani would be at his side.It would be unbearable.

Without intending to, my thoughts returned to the Roman soldier who had sneaked up behind Hasani and thrust the sword in his back.I cringed and then gazed restlessly out at the blue water until Cleopatra’s whisper interrupted my musings.

“Let us prepare for breakfast, sweet. I will need you to re-apply my cosmetics.I just don’t do it as well as you.”

I nodded and silently followed her back into her bedchambers.As I smoothed the thick kohl over her eyelid, I knew that I had to figure out some way to spend more time with Ahmose, so that I could get myself out of this mess.I opened my mouth, then hesitated.Her obsidian eyes met mine in the mirror.

“What is it, Charmian?You wish to say something.Go ahead,”she encouraged.“You know that I value your opinion.”

I hesitated again.Would this change anything?But the birthmark on my wrist was not aching, a clear indication that I was not making a mistake.

At my hesitation, she smiled.

“Are you thinking to tell me something about Hasani?I’m not sure if I want to hear it, love. Or wait.Perhaps I do.Entertain me. Impress me. Tell me things about Hasani that no one else knows.”

She waited in anticipation and I rolled my eyes.

“No, not about Hasani.He is the same as always.Perfect.”

I smiled lightly and it was her turn to roll her eyes.But even as she did, I knew that she shared my opinion.There was a reason that Hasani was Antony’s favored general.He was as loyal as the day was long and never, ever failed.Cleopatra could depend on him for anything and she knew it.

“Alright then.If you are not going to entertain me with Hasani’s lovemaking prowess, then what is it?”I could see on her face that she was disappointed and I laughed.

“It’s something else… just an idea, my queen.”I continued quickly before I could change my mind.

“The Bast priest, Ahmose, came to see me about the renovation of the Bastet Temple.”

“And?”She was surprised.As she should be.The worship of the cat goddess Bast had subsided gradually throughout the years.Cats were still sacred, of course, but Bast’s popularity had faded.The project to build a bigger temple had been placed on the back burner a couple of years ago.

“Ahmose had an intriguing idea.He’s concerned about the morale of the people with this constant fear of Roman invasion lingering over our heads.He proposes that we leave the temple for Bast in its present location, but place renewed interest in finishing the new temple.He would like to use it as a temple for the Phoenix, similar to the current temple in Heliopolis.And I, for one, don’t think it is a bad idea.” 

I mentally patted myself on the back for my quick thinking and made a mental note to fill Ahmose in on his idea ASAP.

“Why do you like this idea?”She turned to me, puzzled.“Convince me.”

“Well, everyone knows that the Phoenix is a symbol of rebirth and eternal life. Let us emphasize to the people that the spirit of Alexandria will live on, no matter what happens with Rome. Besides, it would be a positive distraction for the city,”I suggested.And it would allow me to spend quite a bit of time with Ahmose without being questioned.

Cleopatra leaned back in her seat and considered.She nibbled her lip with her teeth as she thought, unconsciously kicking her heel against her vanity bench.

“I hate to spend a large amount of gold right now,”she admitted.“We don’t know what is coming. I know that I will need to build more ships.War is expensive, Charmian.But still…”She trailed off and absently fiddled with jeweled hair clips laying in front of her.

“Still.You have a valid point.It would be good for the morale of the people.”

She nodded her head.“Yes, Charmian.Go ahead and tell the priest that he may proceed with the renovations.However, I wish to be consulted with the plans.”

She turned back to her mirror dismissively, the matter settled and out of her mind.The gentle wind blew around us and I took a deep perfumed breath.

There was no pollution from factories or cars here. Palm trees and native flowers adorned the land below the palace and the incense from within created a distinct scent, in combination with the gentle breeze that swept in from the sea.I couldn’t believe I had ever forgotten this smell.Just as I couldn’t believe I had ever forgotten the fear and desolation that we had felt here…it was crushing.It rested heavily upon my heart now, as if it had been there all along.

“Of course, Cleopatra,”I answered.“He will be thrilled with your kindness.”

Cleopatra picked up a silver hairbrush and pulled it through her long hair.Historians had wondered for hundreds of years about her true description. They had theorized that she was Greek and not Egyptian at all, although they could never prove it.The Romans had ordered all likenesses of her destroyed after her death.Of course, I now remembered that the historians were correct.

Like every Ptolemy before her, Cleopatra was Greek.She had inherited the distinct Ptolemaic nose, clear proof of her distinguished blood-line. Her eyes were so dark that they were almost black, but contrary to hundreds of modern depictions, her hair was not.

It was a thick and glossy chestnut brown, tumbling down to the small of her back.She chose to wear shiny black wigs in an effort to appear more Egyptian, making her more relatable to her Egyptian subjects. Among eight other languages, she spoke fluent Egyptian for the same reason.She was shockingly intelligent.

She rose from her little bench and opened a mother-of-pearl wardrobe directly to our left.It was filled with black wigs of every length and type.She stood in front of them, debating which one to choose, before she finally lifted down a shoulder length glossy black wig with bangs and handed it to me.

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