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Only a Woman
“My Lady, Octavian is here.” Neferura, my only loyal servant was in a panic. “It will only be a matter of time before he finds you here.”
“I won’t hide any longer. Bring my paints, my best red sheath and my most expensive jewelry. I’ve charmed two Roman men; there’s no reason I can’t charm this one too.”
Neferura bowed, then ran out of the mausoleum I had been hiding in for the past few months. Had it really only been a couple of months since everything had gone wrong? Our fleet was destroyed at Actium, Mark Antony committed suicide and now the Emperor had arrived in Egypt. If I couldn’t charm Octavian like I charmed Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, then I would soon return to my mausoleum as a corpse.
Neferura soon returned with all the things I had requested. She helped me wriggle out of my plain white sheath and into my sumptuous red one that left little to imagination. Then she brushed my tangled black hair, pinned it up and slipped my wig of a hundred ringlets into place. I sat very still as she outlined my eyes in kohl, used henna to redden my lips and covered the dark circles under my eyes with powder. From the small selection of jewelry she brought, I chose a silver circlet with a huge red jasper stone that hung on my forehead, bracelets of electrum, a belt of moonstones and rings of lapis lazuli. I looked at myself in the small bronze mirror Neferura brought and smiled. I looked perfect, as usual. Now all I had to do was make Octavian agree.
“You manipulated a good Roman man into turning against his own country.”
“Me? I am just a woman. What influence could a woman have over a strong Roman man?”
Octavian spluttered at my words; he was not buying into my story. And he definitely wasn’t falling for my body like Julius and Mark had. My intelligence only threatened him, so that definitely wasn’t helping my case. Time for Plan B.
“You need a powerful ally in Egypt; I can maintain control over my people. Let me remain Pharaoh and Rome will reap the rewards.”
For the first time in our meeting, Octavian smiled. “Cleopatra, you are an intelligent woman. Tell me why would I need a powerful ally in the newest Roman province?”
“You’re annexing Egypt?” I gasped.
“Of course. I have no wish to quell the rebellion of yet another tempestuous Eastern Queen.” He snapped his fingers. “Take her away, but do not harm her. I wish to display her at my triumph when I return.”
The Roman guards marched me at sword point to a tiny room in the palace that had been a guest room. Before they locked me away for good, I turned to face them and suggestively lifted my sheath to reveal my right calf. One of the soldiers hesitated, but the other pushed me into my prison and slammed the door behind me. To my surprise, Neferura was there, setting up a simple cot by the door. Seeing me, she bowed before speaking.
“I convinced the guards to let me tend to you. My Queen, what are you going to do now?”
“I am going to deny Emperor Octavian his greatest prize.” I smiled reassuringly to hide the fact I was ready to break down and cry. “I don’t care how you do it, but bring me an asp. I’m going to die with the honour that befits the last Pharaoh of Egypt.”
Neferura nodded and I could see the tears in her deep brown eyes. I walked over to her and pulled her into a hug, a huge breech of station on my part. But I didn’t care; I was about to die and I needed to thank her for her complete loyalty to me. I felt the tears run down my face, but I let them flow. After all, if I had my way, I was not long for this world.
After Neferura retouched my makeup, I was ready. She had smuggled the asp past the guards by hiding it in a basket of figs. I reached in the figs and nearly smiled in triumph when my fingers closed around the asp’s cool, smooth body. It hissed as I pulled it out of the basket. Good, it was already annoyed at being kept under the heavy figs.
Its eyes stared coldly at me as I stroked its head, enticing it to bite me. Finally, it struck my wrist with lightning speed. I bit my tongue to keep from crying out in pain. When the snake let go, I quickly dumped it in the fig basket and put the lid on it. I didn’t want it to slither out and bite Neferura, my only friend left.
Within minutes, my breathing became laboured. I lay down on the bed and carefully composed myself. I was going to die with dignity, the way a Pharaoh should. My last breaths were steeped in agony, yet I was strangely happy. I had thwarted Octavian, denying him his greatest prize.
But my happiness didn’t last long. The gods in Judgment Hall were calling for me, Queen Cleopatra, the last and greatest Pharaoh.