In The Days Following The Death Of Her Father, Cleopatra Begins Her Life
Approximately 50 BCE
Word Count: 5,049
“You two were gathered and brought to my office for a reason,” The advisor droned on. Cleopatra Philopator closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry again. The proceeding weeks had been trying for the young woman. Her beloved father and co-ruler of Egypt, Auletes, had passed away after having promised her to reveal a very big secret in her life. Though she had no proof, she had truly believed that he was finally going to reveal who her mother was. It was something that had long bothered her, but her father had always insisted that it didn’t matter, that as long as she had him that was all that should matter. “Your father has left the land of the living, and in doing so has left a vast fortune,”
“Stop being so fidgety,” Cleopatra snapped at her brother Ptolemy at 11, he had yet to learn how to sit still for any amount of time. She tapped him on his shoulder and gave him a look that stopped even grown men in their tracks. Her blue eyes clouded over, being described by some of her fellow rulers as being akin to looking at the sky when the storm clouds rolled in. Once her brother fell back into place, she smiled at her father former advisor. “Please go on.”
“As you know dear Cleopatra, you’re father truly believed that you were more than capable of ruling this great country, Egypt, by yourself. He had no doubt that you could handle the pressure of being the sole queen and ruler. However as you know there are traditions that must be kept in place, lest anarchy take over and the people rebel against you, and so your father has decided that you shall be co-ruler with your brother Ptolemy,” The advisor took a deep breath and steeled himself for the wrath of the young woman, there was no way she would take his news well, she was used to getting her way. “Please understand that this was not an easy call for your father, in fact it was something he fought us on for many years.”
“If he was so against it then why in the world didn’t he just have you killed for trying to change his mind? I am certainly thinking of having anyone who challenged my father’s view executed,” she made a show of moving closer. “What was your position? Were you one of the people who thought it best that a woman not rule on her own?”
“It does not matter who thought and said what. What matters is that you need to show your brother the ropes,” The advisor once again looked at the young lady. Her dark hair was pulled back today, making her prominent nose that much more noticeable. The dress she had on clung to her curves, with a dip revealing her breasts, which were where his eyes landed. A familiar stirring rose in his pants, he tried to will it away but there was nothing he could do about it. His breath caught in his throat, there was no easy way to break the news that he had to tell her, especially since it meant that he would never have a chance to feel her silky skin against his. “Cleopatra, since your father has decided that the pair of you will be co-rulers, which also means that you must be married.”
Ptolemy looked between his sister, his future wife, and the advisor. The deadly look that Cleopatra was shooting at the other man made him rethink speaking up; he cleared his throat and backed further away when she shot him a look. After a moment of complete silence, and when he could not tolerate the quiet for one second longer he spoke up. “Cleopatra, it won’t be so bad. You have always helped me when I needed it, it will be the same thing.”
“It will not be the same thing,” Her tone was even, the coldness in it chilled both men to the bones. “Father wanted me to rule this country by myself; he knew I could do it. But people who had no business sticking their noses in my business got in the way. Now I am being forced to marry someone much younger than me, and teach him to rule. So that one day very soon, I will be pushed out and he will rule by himself. I will tell both of you this right here and now, I will not allow that to happen, I will not be pushed aside.” She turned on her heel with a flourish and made her way out of the room, before exiting she turned back to them and with a snarl added “Draw up the papers for the union between Ptolemy and myself but there will be no ceremony, no matter how badly the people or you imbeciles want it. And know this gentleman, you may have won this round but here and now I am telling you that this is war! I may have to follow what you want for right now, but that will not be the case for long and I will exact my revenge on you!”
After she stormed off into the next room, the tears were back; once again she willed them back. Unlike last time the reason was not to appear stoic but to strengthen her resolve. A promise had been made to her by her father and she was going to make sure that the oath would be kept. Taking care of the advisor would be an easy task; she would simply have him beheaded. Just because he had been a trusted advisor to her father did not mean that he would hold the same title with her, in fact she would label him a traitor. There was no doubt in her mind that he had been one of the people who had convinced her father to change things.
“Miss Cleopatra, what is bothering you?” Her most trusted servant and friend, Apollodoros asked her. His green eyes examined her and noted that her hands were clinched, a sure sign that there was trouble. “You know that you can confide in me, you can tell me anything and it will stay between the two of us Madame.”
Cleopatra smiled at him, a small smile that he knew all too well. Her features were harder than normal, which meant that they were about to go to war or at least had a new rival. When she spoke some of the warmth returned to her voice, which threw him off. “I do know I can trust you but then I thought I could trust my father and he stabbed me in the back. Have no fear though; I will right the wrongs that were done to me today. I will not go quietly into the night.”
She watched as he processed her words. His lips turned upwards, which told her that he would be on board with whatever she decided to do. “Miss Cleo, what happened, you and your father were so close. He would never do anything to upset you like this. He often went out of his way to make sure that you had everything you needed and wanted, you were his pride and joy.”
His words gave her pause. It was true that her father had done everything in his power to insure her happiness, so there had to be a reason that he had changed his mind and not told her. Despite his best efforts to keep her out of the loop on some important issues, she knew that the kingdom was on the verge of collapse. “Apollodoros, I want a meeting with all of the advisors, and it needs to happen soon, please set it up. We also need to get a good look at anything in my father’s rooms; there is something that is being kept from me and I want to know what it is.”
Her confidante nodded his head and made mental notes of what she wanted done. There was nothing out of the ordinary requested and he would have everything done before sunset, though he did wonder about the mysterious things she has said. He knew better than to question the lady he served, she did not take kindly to that and with her already in an ill temper it would not do any good. “Is there anything else Madame?”
“Yes never, and though I have told you this before, I will say it again, never call me Cleo. I hate that name and nobody will be calling me that, unless they want to be executed.” Her lips pursed together, and her brows scrunched down. She was deep in thought and would not speak again until he had finished her list of errands.
The silence blanketed both of them; each had their own thoughts to work out. Cleopatra tucked stray hairs behind her ears, a sure sign that something was weighing heavily on her mind. Before he could ponder this anymore another servant greeted them, anxiety shone in the poor woman’s mind. “Miss Cleopatra, that dirty Roman man is here, and is requesting that you receive him for dinner.”
“First of all, when you are in my employ, you must conduct yourself as a lady. Secondly, I have asked you not to refer to our roman brothers as dirty. Thirdly, please have cook prepare a feast for our guest.” As the chastised maid scurried away, Cleopatra turned once again to the one servant that she knew would get things done for her. “Apollodoros, I need you to find Irisa and have her draw me a bath. Also I need a change of robes before I meet with Pompey.”
“How do you know that it’s Pompey here? Pelousa did not say that it was he who was here for dinner,” He watched as a tight smile spread across her face. Somehow he had known that she knew that it was her father’s ally.
“Who else would be crude enough to show up uninvited, expecting not only a room but also a hot meal to be eaten with the lady of the house? If it’s not Pompey, I will give you time alone with that guard that you have lust for,” Before he could protest, she waved him off. “I must get ready for this meal with that man. Please find Irisa as soon as you can and send her up to me.”
After Apollodoros left her side, Cleopatra began to compose herself. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind, she knew that going into dinner with a fresh head and a beautiful, and lust inducing dress was the only way to get through dinner. Somehow her father had found a way to deal with the mounting financial troubles the country had been facing but had not informed her as to how he had done it. She had her suspicions, but without evidence she would not allow herself to jump to conclusions. “Father please let me be wrong, please tell me you did not borrow money from the Romans.”
When she entered her room, she was not surprised to find that Irisa was already there. “Your bath has been drawn, and I have found the perfect entertaining gown for you to wear. Now hurry and get yourself together,”
“Irisa is it the white silk dress that I love on me?” Of course she knew it wasn’t, that was one of the few pieces of clothing that Irisa found inappropriate. The elder woman would sooner have her run around naked than wear that piece of garment. “I was thinking that with my pearls would be the best outfit for the night.”
“Fine, fine. I will lay that out for you if that’s what you want. You will look like an overpriced harlot but maybe that’s the image that you want to project to the guest that has traveled all this way.” Cleopatra watched her chambermaid as she busied herself with getting out the requested outfit. “I don’t know why in the world you wouldn’t want to put your best foot forward, to make the impression on the gentleman. If your father was here, he would never allow you to act so crudely.”“Well he’s not here and I really do not wish to speak to the help about what my father may or may not have approved of. Lay out the clothing as requested and keep your judgments to yourself.”
“I am going about the business as you asked me to. Why don’t you get yourself into the bath and clean yourself up before you let yourself look like a common whore. If you were my daughter I would want you to look like the Queen that you are supposed to be, but what do I know? I’m just an old lady, just hired to do a job.”
“Old is putting it nicely, no one knows exactly how old you are. One day we may cut you open and count the rings to see how many years you have under your belt,” She took in the other ladies reaction, though she was scowling, there was laughter in her eyes. Cleopatra quickly disrobed, and walked into the area that was sectioned off for her tub.
After getting herself cleaned, she called Irisa in to dry her off. Once she was dressed, she twirled in front of her chambermaid. “You look beautiful my dear. Simply beautiful,” Irisa straightened the pearl necklace on her master’s neck. “You still look like a woman who sells her body at the marketplace, don’t make the mistake that I have changed my opinion of the garment. However you can carry this dress,”
“Coming from someone like you makes me feel like the belle of the ball, the only reason I wear this dress is because you hate it so much. If you had any sense left in your head, which of course assumes you had some to begin with, you would stop with the comments if you had a brain in that head of yours. Of course if I had you beheaded, we would discover that all that is up there is air.”
“So much wit, and yet no man will take you on as their wife. I wonder why that is. Actually I don’t have to wonder why that is, a man wants to feel like he is needed, he wants to feel that his wife lives only for him. You Cleopatra, do none of these things for the men that you claim to love.”
“Not that I need to answer to you but I am married. Yes it is to my brother and yes I have to have him as a co-ruler but I have a husband none the less,” Cleopatra watched as the surprise washed over Irisa’s face. It struck the young Queen as odd, given that her father had told the other woman everything, in a time before the Roman philosophy of men being superior; she had been her father’s closest advisor. In that moment everything fell into place for her, she now realized what had happened. “If you don’t mind I do have a guest to entertain now.”
With a flourish she left the room. Slowly she began piecing together a theory as to why her father had betrayed her so badly. He may not have wanted to, but was forced to by someone who claimed to be their friend, someone who claimed to have their best interests at heart. At just that moment Apollodoros ran up to her. “I’m glad you are here, I need you to talk to Pompey’s people and find out what kind of deal was made with my father,”
“Yes Madame, I will get all of that done. But there is something I need to tell you,” He was short of breath, Cleopatra drew a sharp breath. Whatever he was about to tell her was something that was very important, otherwise he would not have ran to tell her.
“Your brother, husband will be joining you for the feast. He is doing so at the request of Pompey and now he wants to be a part of all of the meeting that you have me setting up.”
She let the new information sink in. There was no way she would be able to get work done with Ptolemy around, and interrupting her at every turn. She felt her cheeks turn red from the anger that was boiling inside of her. “Set up the meetings, I will take care of the rest, and remember I need you to find out about any deals that this man made with my father. Go on now,”
As she drew closer to the dining hall, she heard voices, one belonged to her new husband and the other was deeper, more masculine, she figured it had to belong to Pompey. When she walked through the doorway the men looked up at her, irritation flashed through the guest’s eyes. “You know in Rome it is rude for a woman to keep the men from eating. “Well in Egypt it is customary for the guests of royalty to rise when they walk into the room and be seated when the ruler takes their chair,” She shot him a dirty look and made a show of walking to her seat. “Seeing as you don’t want to honor our traditions, then I must let you know that the meal will be held until I tell the servants to bring out the food. That will only happen when I am happy.”
“You know Cleopatra; I am not accustomed to women behaving in such a rude manner. This would not stand in Rome,” Pompey snarled. He furrowed his brow and looked at his accomplice for some support.
“The way you are acting superior to me and my people will not stand. If you refuse to rise for me, that is your choice but I will tell you that you will starve,” She waved one of the servants off when they entered the dining room. “Now will you show me the respect I am due or will you choose for you and your men to go hungry?”
“You cannot show me this much disrespect! It is unheard of, for a woman to act so, so disobedient,” He turned to Ptolemy and hissed, “Get your wife under control or there will be dire consequences.”
“That will be the day,” Cleopatra let out a laugh that was at once infectious, a few of the nearby servants and guards chuckled along with her. She tossed her head skyward and let another guffaw. When she was finished, she looked back at the guest who had insulted her so, the look of pure resentment on his face, gave her a sense of pride. “While my brother may be my co-ruler and husband, he has no control over me. In fact I would dare say that it is I, who has control over him!”
Both men looked at her, mouth agape. Ptolemy furrowed his brow and his already thin lips seemingly disappeared into his mouth. A hint of red rose on his cheeks, though it was hard to tell with his dark tanned complexion. When he looked at his wife, the black eyes that normally were wide with childlike glee were gone and replaced with a dangerous coal slits. “You do not control me. I am the man and you will do as I say! Now have them bring in the food so we can eat!”
Another laugh escaped her lips, she tossed her hair back, and she looked at the boy who she had been forced to marry. It was obvious to her that Pompey had spewed his philosophy about the roles of men and women to the youngest of the trio and there was no way that she would allow it to stand. “Dearest brother, you may think that you are a man but I can assure you that you are not. Just as I can assure you that, while father may have been teaching you the ropes of politics before his tragic death, and had me teaching you the role of a ruler, you have no idea how to sustain our country, the alliances, or any other part. So please do not try to act tough just because you want to impress the uninvited guest. When said guest does as I requested, very nicely I might add, then I will have the food brought out.”
Ptolemy turned to the Roman and quietly whispered. “Please just do as she says, it’s really not worth the fight. After dinner, I will have a talk with her and make her understand why it’s important to have a male in charge.”
Pompey said nothing but rose, and bowed to the young Queen. His fists balled and held tightly at his side, a scowl firmly on his face. Despite his seething, there was something else that he was feeling for the demanding young lady, something that he could not put his finger on. It wasn’t lust exactly; it was something like that though. She needed a man to bring her and her ego under control, and the young man sitting next to him would not be able to do that, it would take a real man, a Roman man.
On Cleopatra’s order, the food was brought in and piled high on the plates that were in front of them, and then taken into the room that was housing the guards, servants of Pompey. The meal was eaten in silence; Cleopatra stole glances as the two males at the other end of the table wondering what kind of trouble her new husband would give her. None she decided abruptly, once the arrogant Roman was out of the house, she would lay down the law with him. He had to understand that things were the way they were for a reason, and if he tried to tamper with anything it would prove disastrous for everyone involved.
When she felt full, she pushed her plate away and made a spectacle of rising. Ptolemy followed suit immediately, and looked to see what the other man did. Begrudgingly Pompey also stood, though he shot a dirty look at the female ruler. A phony smile made its way to his face, “My compliments to the chef. You may have no manners but you do run a tight ship in your palace, an incredible feat.”
Cleopatra made her way to the guest, leaned forward and made sure to look him square in the eye. She took a deep breath, and drank the anger back down into the pit of her stomach; she had always found it best to deal with enemies when her head was clear and a lack of emotion. When she began speaking, her voice was huskier than she meant it to be, “Thank you for the kind words, Pompey. But as you must know and acknowledge, I am much more than the ruler of this house. My father and I have run this country jointly for many years, so I am much more than just your ordinary female. If you have a problem with that, as much as I do enjoy your company, I suggest you not make another journey out this way.”
“You will not speak to me in such a way!” Pompey’s face turned bright red. He slammed his fist on the table, causing the plate and goblets to bounce a bit. He was not accustomed to being addressed by the woman in such a rude and classless fashion. “I could easily overtake Egypt and make it my own. I have done it before and I will do it again, I can either be your friend or I can be your foe.”
Cleopatra shrugged her shoulders, a real smile formed on her lips. “Maybe if you asked around, you would know that my people would fight you tooth and nail, they do not appreciate Roman interference with us. Also I do not see you as a friend or a foe, I see you more as an annoyance.”
With a flourish she left the dining room, the men stunned. It had not been a wise move to treat Pompey so cruelly she knew, but she also wanted to make a big impression on the man, so word traveled back to Rome. Once the story got back to them and the officials in charge, she was sure they would back off and leave her kingdom alone.
“I have some news for you,” Apollodoros appeared at her side. She looked at him confused, was there witch craft in his blood, where he could vanish and appear anytime he wanted. If so, she would make sure that he taught her how to do that. “You are not going to like what I have to say. This will anger you beyond belief. It made my blood boil and it only indirectly affects me, but you will not be pleased when I tell you.”
“Will you just tell me this news already?” She sighed heavily and rolled her blue eyes towards her employee. His hands were shaking, and he could not hold her eye contact, which indicated to her that something was quite amiss. Well go on Apollodoros, just tell me. No one is going to hurt you. Nothing bad will happen to you for telling me what you have found out,”
“It’s about your father. Miss Cleopatra he indebted you and this country to the Romans,” His speech was fast, his eyes darted about, as if he thought someone was watching them. She straightened herself, and laid a hand upon his shoulder to give him comfort. “Your father borrowed money from the Roman government and from one family in particular,”
“Don’t tell me,” she braced herself for the revelation, which she knew her servant would confirm for her. How could her father leave her such a mess to clean up after? This was the worst thing that he could do to her, and then on top of everything else, to make Ptolemy her equal, her co-ruler. “The family he borrowed money from was the Magnus’, Pompey’s family. That’s why he came here without an invitation or without warning, because we owe him.”
“How did you know?” There was no explanation coming and he knew it. She bit her lip, a sign that she was unhappy and unsure of herself. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you, but you gave me the assignment and thought you would want to know everything.”
“No, no you did the right thing. A lot of things just really cleared up for me; now that I have more of the puzzle I can piece things together, more easily.” She watched as he relaxed his body. If only I could, she thought to herself but decided against it. “How did you get everything I asked of you done so fast? Do you practice witch craft or something?”
“Witch craft? No, no, no Miss Cleopatra not at all. Honestly I anticipated you needing to set up the meetings when I learned of your father’s death, so I had already talked to the advisors and made sure they would meet with you this week. As for the Pompey information, it helped that I told them that I am the Queens assistant that opened up a lot of mouths.”
“You’re sure that there’s no magic involved? Because it certainly seems as though there could be,” She was sure that the annoyance she felt could not be heard in her voice. Yes she was pleased he had done everything she asked, but using a title not given to him by her was unacceptable. “You can tell me if there’s witch craft, I may or may not want to learn it.”
“I assure you ma’am that I would not do that sort of thing. My family is totally against using magic, they don’t think it’s moral. I was raised not to believe that magic is real but I no longer feel that way, but in order to keep peace in my family I just keep it to myself.”
“Well we can talk about that another time, right now though, I need to rest and prepare for my meetings. Speaking of, when are they set up for? I need to make sure that I have a clear strategy laid out because everyone needs to know that I am in charge now and to ensure that they have confidence in me.”
“You’re the Queen, people don’t need to have confidence in you, they just have to do what you say,” He gave her a small smile; he didn’t understand why she didn’t just take total control over the country like here father had. As he was constantly reminded though, he was not paid to think, he was paid to do what was asked of him.
“That’s not how it works. If the people that I rule don’t believe in me, they will start a war or try to kill me. What needs to happen is them seeing that I am ruling in everyone’s best interests, for them to see that I want them to prosper as much as I want to also.” They neared her chamber; she turned to him “When are the meetings?”
“The day after tomorrow, what do you want me to do about your brother wanting to sit in on the meetings with you?”
“Nothing. He can be in the meetings; however we must discourage him from speaking up. He must also realize that these meetings are very serious and not a place for fun,” With that she waved her servant off and entered her room, quietly surveying it. Irisa had laid out her clothes for the next day.
As she readied herself for sleep, she wondered how everything had gotten so out of control. For years she and her father had ruled jointly and yet information was coming in that she didn’t know anything about what her father was doing. She lay her head on the pillow, wondering what role her father had actually wanted for her and why he had kept so many secrets.