The Queen of Egypt has a Conversation with the Gods.
Placed second in "Short Shots: Official WDC Contest" - August 2017
Reaching into Sabu’s chest, Anubis deftly plucked out his heart. Sabu gasped, and cried out, but felt no pain. Nor was there any blood.
Disbelieving, he placed his hand on his chest, expecting to feel a large bloody wound. There was nothing. Sabu glanced over at the huge golden scale on the table beside the lighted door.
Anubis thoughtfully studied the large heart, before placing an ostrich feather on one of the instrument’s pans. As it settled into position, Anubis carefully laid the heart in the other pan.
“Do you understand that it is not possible to enter Duat without the weighing of your heart?” Anubis murmured.
Sabu nodded. He was afraid. He knew he would only be permitted to enter the underworld if his heart was lighter than the Feather of Truth. As the scale settled into a level position, Sabu began to tremble, thoughts of his many misdemeanors and earthly transgressions adding to his fear.
Without warning, the pan holding the heart suddenly dropped to the table. The Feather of Truth floated gracefully into the air. The light around the door extinguished, and Sabu’s horrified gasp turned into a scream as Thoth stepped out of the shadows. Beside him stood Ammit, panting and drooling with expectation. Thoth restrained her, his hand on her collar.
“Sabu,” Anubis intoned, his voice echoing ominously around the hall. “I regret to advise that your heart is heavy and impure. Your soul may not enter Duat. You shall pass through the door and die a second time. Your soul shall pass to the Devourer of Souls - Ammit.”
As he spoke her name, Thoth released Ammit, who leapt onto the table. Greedily she took the heart out of the pan and swallowed it whole. Sabu’s horrified stare vanished as Ammit jumped off the table and went to sit next to Anubis. Thoth used his ankh to make his symbol on Sabu’s tablet, signing off the record of Sabu’s life. As Thoth disappeared to file the tablet in the library, Sabu walked through the darkened door and melted into the darkness.
“I guess that’s it for today,” Anubis sighed, stroking Ammit’s head. She looked up at him lovingly, her red eyes filled with devotion. Thoth returned from the library, wiping the dust from the tablet off his fingers. Ammit’s tail wagged furiously.
“You are most fortunate that Ammit will not need feeding tonight,” Thoth told his friend.
“It does not get easier having to send them to die a second time, no matter how often it happens. The scales do not lie.”
Thoth agreed. They began to clear the table, both looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Dealing with the dead was not an easy task. There were so many emotions and so much regret, especially for those who died unexpectedly. Sadly, these days there seemed to be less souls transferring to Duat and more being devoured. For Egyptians, a fate worse than death was eternal restlessness for a person without a soul.
“Do you think man is losing his way? Is he becoming more materialistic and less spiritual? Of the fifty souls we dealt with today just ten passed on to Duat.”
“Perhaps,” Thoth answered. “But man has free will, and makes his own destiny. We simply pass judgement. We are not responsible for what he does with his life –“
“I cannot seal the entrance to Duat,” Anubis said, struggling to pull the heavy wooden door closed.
“Intruder,” Ammit growled a soft, low warning.
Thoth and Anubis quickly turned from the door. Ammit’s tail wagged in greeting as she walked towards a tall, beautiful woman.
“I am afraid you will need to wait until sunrise,” Thoth told her.
She laughed: “I don’t think so. The sun has not yet set. Are you two trying to avoid carrying out your godly duties?”
Thoth and Anubis stared at her. White linen robes flowed down her body. The jeweled belt around her waist matched those adorning her headdress and neckline. The late afternoon sunlight turned her olive skin golden and shone on her sleek black hair. She looked like a goddess as she held her hand towards Ammit, the jeweled bracelet on her wrist casting rainbow colours on the walls and pillars. Ammit sniffed her open palm, her tail motionless.
As she stroked Ammit’s hard scaly head, Anubis’ faithful companion relaxed. When he called, she trotted over to his side and sat down. This was unusual; Ammit’s greed meant she always stayed by the scales, shunning attempts at affection for her love of food.
The woman walked over to Anubis. Unlike most who visited the room, she showed no fear, her hands pressed together in reverence and respect as she approached the God of the Underworld.
“This is not your time, Cleopatra,” Thoth handed the stone tablet he collected from the library to Anubis.
The Queen of Egypt feigned surprise: “Why not, Scribe of the Underworld? Because you and Anubis wish to take a break from your duties? Death does not take time off. He works all day and all night. I am here now, and I understand the Guardian of the Scales must weigh my heart to authorize my entrance into Duat.”
“Death did not take you, Queen,” Anubis said. “This is not your time. You should not have taken your own life –“
“Explain yourself!” Cleopatra exclaimed. “Guardian, you have no right to tell me when I am supposed to be here. My life does not belong to you! How dare you tell me what to do?”
Anubis and Thoth were speechless. Most of those entering this place were subdued, fearful of the scales and what awaited them after the judgement. Even those for whom death was unexpected showed more respect than this woman. Neither had ever faced a situation like this, and both were unsure as to how they should respond to her.
Cleopatra stared at them defiantly, before breaking into a smile.
“I apologise,” she said. “I have no right to speak to you in this manner. It is rude, and that is not how I was raised or how I have behaved in life.”
Thoth stepped forward. “You apology is accepted. We will carry out the weighing of your heart. But first, Queen… please tell us why you brought your death forward.”
“I’m tired,” she answered. “I’ve been queen since the age of fourteen, and a sole ruler since I was eighteen years old. I have served Egypt my entire life, and it seems I have done nothing but fight for Egypt and my throne for the last thirty years.
“First it was my brother. Ptolemy hounded me for the throne; in fact, if he had succeeded I would have been in this room before my 21st birthday. I had to form a liaison with Julius to ensure my safety.”
“You loved Julius Caesar,” Anubis looked up from Cleopatra’s tablet.
“Of course I did,” she agreed. “But it galls me to admit I had to seduce a man to get what I wanted. Do you know he was more than twice my age when I met him? Old enough to be my grandfather.”
The gods were silent. Cleopatra’s openness was unusual, and neither was quite sure how to respond.
As the sun sank below the horizon, Thoth asked, “Why did you poison Ptolemy?”
“For Egypt,” Cleopatra replied. “He would have poisoned me. He was only interested in power. He had absolutely no interest in the Egyptian people. That is why I formed the alliance with Rome. I did it for Egypt. I had no desire for my country and her people to be turned into part of the Roman Empire!”
“Is that why you entered into a relationship with Mark Antony?” Thoth’s query was met with a moment of stunned silence.
“Initially,” Cleopatra answered, quietly. “But my heart had other ideas. You must know that I fell in love with him. He loved me too. We had three children. He married me.”
“He was here earlier today,” Anubis said. Cleopatra’s dark eyes shone with tears.
“I heard that he had died,” the sadness was evident in her quiet voice. “I hoped it was not true. I am glad I am here, for I could not live without him. We loved each other, and he supported me and ensured Octavian did not take Egypt. Or me."
The sun had slipped below the horizon, and the last golden rays were fading from the wall. Anubis waved his hand and the lamps lighted. As Cleopatra sat on the edge of the table, Ammit moved over and lay down at her feet. Anubis was surprised: Ammit had never showed affection to anyone other than himself and Thoth. He studied Cleopatra, and saw a woman struggling with her loss. She was trying to come to terms with her life choices. She was trying to convince herself she had lived a good life.
Thoth’s voice cut into the silence.
“Nea Isis? New Isis? You took the name of our Mother Goddess? You believe you are her reincarnation?” Thoth’s shock and indignation echoed in the room.
Cleopatra wiped her eyes, took a deep breath and stood up. Ammit instantly sat up, leaning against Cleopatra’s skirts.
“I never made that proclamation,” her voice rang clearly and confidently in the room, as though she was on trial and replying to a question from the jury.
“People gossip. They bestowed that name upon me in honour of what I have done for my country. Who am I to deny their celebration? Everything I have ever done has been for Egypt. My people understand that, and their love for me is nothing more than the love for their country. I am Egypt.”
Anubis picked up the ostrich feather, watching this remarkable woman. Not one person before her had ever given such a selfless defense of her actions and her life. She was a true queen, giving her life for her people. However, one question remained.
“Cleopatra, why did you take your life?”
“Because Octavian was going to kill me,” she answered. “My time is over. The Egyptian Empire is at the end of its days. I was not going to let Octavian take me prisoner. He would have murdered me and destroyed my country. I know my son, Caesarion will succeed me, but he is powerless to stop fate. My death has simply brought my people time. Had I not taken my life Egypt would now be under the control of Rome. When Egypt dies so do her gods. The Roman gods will replace you all, so perhaps you need to consider your future options. You have a small window of opportunity to plan your futures. Do it now.”
The reality of her prophecy was not lost on either god.
“I have one question before we weigh your heart. How did you do it?” Thoth asked.
Moving the bracelet up her arm, she showed him the cut on her wrist.
“Hemlock, opium and wolfsbane,” she replied. “A toxic combination introduced directly into the bloodstream.”
As Thoth etched the final details of Cleopatra’s life onto her tablet, Anubis placed the feather on the scale. Courageously she faced him, lifting her jeweled collar so he could reach her heart. She made no sound as he reached into her chest and removed the organ. Expressionless, she watched him place it on the scale.
For a moment the scale waivered, before the feather plunged downwards. Cleopatra’s relief was evident in her smile. Thoth and Anubis were speechless. Ammit grunted, and Cleopatra bent down and kissed her gnarled snout. She hugged Thoth and Anubis, thanking them for listening to her defense of her life choices.”
“I go forward in peace, knowing because I lived a good life my heart is light and free.”
The last queen of Ancient Egypt walked towards the door, pausing for a moment as she looked back at Ammit, Anubis and Thoth. With one cheeky wink, she stepped into the light and entered Duat.
Sabu: An Egyptian who feels guilty for the way he has lived his life.
Anubis: Egyptian God of the Afterlife, Mummification and Embalming. Protector of Souls and Guardian of the Scales, God of cemetaries and Emblaming.
Thoth: Scribe of the Gods, Mediator between Good and Evil, God of Knowledge, the Moon, Measurement, Wisdom, the Alphabet, Records, Thought, Intelligence, Meditation, the Mind, Logic, Reason, Reading, Hieroglyphics, Magic, Secrets, Scribes, and Writing.
Ammit: Devourer of the Dead, Eater of Hearts, Great of Death. She had the head of a crocodile, the main and forequarters of a lion and the hind quarters of a hippopotamus.
Cleopatra: the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, prior to her son's brief rule as Pharaoh before the country became a province of the Roman Empire.
Historians offer various opinions as to the cause of Cleopatra's death. Some say she encouraged an asp to bite her, while others believe she was killed by Octavian. I have chosen the one I personally believe she would have used; introducing a toxic mixture of different poisons into her bloodstream after cutting herself.