A short story on the childhood of Cleopatra VII.
When I was little, I was Father's favorite. While most fathers doted on their sons and heirs, I was little Cleo, who could whip out a pen one moment and have a sweet poem written in another. So when there was a problem with the government, it was not his eldest son, my brother Ptolemy, that he talked to. It was me.
"I need the money, paidi mou," he said in Greek, "but so do they." By they he meant the people of Egypt, who were paying large sums in taxes because my father had debts to Rome. And they were large debts, indeed--you could purchase the marble palace we sat in and then some with so much gold.
"Why exactly did you promise to pay the Romans anyway? They have quite enough money." I stroked my glossy raven-black hair.
"I promised to pay it to them so they would recognize me as Pharaoh. They were patient, but now they want the money and I just can't make them wait any longer"
My eyebrow went up. "Why would they not?" If there had been another man in the background plotting for the crown, then sure, Father would need to bribe some people. But Father didn't even have any brothers left, and there weren't any nomarchs or anyone foolish enough to plot against a Ptolemy.
"Rome is very powerful, paiti mou. If they refused to accept me as Pharaoh, they could just pluck me off the throne and rule Egypt as a province. Then the Ptolemies wouldn't rule the Nile."
I tried to think of how the world would still be intact if the Ptolemies did not rule Egypt any longer. It was impossible; not for almost three hundred years had anyone without marble skin, a crooked nose, and Greek blood ruled the land of the Nile delta, or the deserts that brushed Nubia's borders. Egypt without the Ptolemies--well, it wouldn't be Egypt at all.
"You could sell some of the finery to pay for it," I suggested. The palace was filled with little gold statues, some as tall as my third fingers, and some that were as big as Father himself. Surely there was a whole treasury's worth of coins in exchange for a roomful of those expensive treasures.
My father shook his head so his flaxen hair bounced. "Never would I sell off our treasures like an old widow without an inheritance. Never." Softly, he took my head in his hands. "Paiti mou, you must always remember: no matter what happens, no matter what the Three Fates have in store for you, you are a Ptolemy. You must always retain your dignity, especially if it is all you have."
Though slightly resentful to see my proud little statement trampled so violently, I knew this was one of those quotes that would stay with me until the day I died. So I planted it in the back of my head, where I would use it later.
"What if we go to Rome? You could find someone to borrow money from, in exchange for…the favor of the Egyptian king, or something."
My father's bottom lip climbed upward so it seemed he was frowning. "That is a good idea. And while I'm there, I can convince the Senate to let me off a little longer. Only good can come from a trip to Rome." His lips cracked into a smile. "Unless, of course, they decide they want to assassinate you."
I studied my father carefully: his tweaked nose, flat cheekbones, and tiny eyes (maybe they only looked tiny because he was smiling). Father had on a traditional white Greek toga, as did I, because the stuffy Egyptian clothes were reserved only for public services. A toga was more suitable for the relaxed atmosphere of the palace, and far more comfortable.
"So we're going to Rome?" I confirmed, clasping my hands together excitedly. "Will we stop in Greece on the way?"
"Hold on." He put his hands on the marble tabletop. "We're going to Rome. Paiti mou, surely you don't want to come to Rome with me?"
I blinked. Of course I wanted to go to Rome. Rome was where everything happened. Rome ruled half the world. They wore Greek togas like us and modeled their buildings after Greek architecture. I thought it was in my right to go to Rome, if Father was headed there--I could speak Latin and I was part Greek, the culture they modeled everything after. Also, I was Father's favorite. If he was going to Rome, surely he'd want to take me with him.
"I want dearly to go to Rome, Father. Besides, if you're trying to wheedle money and extra time out of them, wouldn't a princess of Egypt help things along?"
Father laughed. "Perhaps, but Rome is a man's world, sweet. Do you really want me to take you to a place where women are just pawns for sons and power?"
I crossed my arms. "The whole world is like that, Father. Wouldn't it be easier for me to deal with it now than when I grow up and I have to make choices for myself?"
He appeared to contemplate for quite a while as I admired the rich furniture and the sweet aroma of river water wafting in through the window. Finally, he said "I will think about it, paiti mou. I will think about it."
Not too many months later, we were on our way to Rome. Father had left my mother, Cleopatra Tryphaena, to govern as regent while we were gone. She would probably visit my brothers and sisters, too, and check on their studies.
Yet from an olive-skinned messenger we received an announcement informing us that Berenice had taken the throne. I wouldn't put it past her, and I worried, but Father only chortled and told me, "They must miss us very much in Egypt, sweet."
When we returned, what do you know, Berenice was wearing the Horus crown. Father and I stood off to the side, expecting to be welcomed to Egypt like gods, but no one even noticed us. They were only in shock that while the Pharaoh went away with one of his princesses for a few months, suddenly the eldest daughter snatched the power from his Chief Wife. Well ha! Berenice would be punished and discarded. After all, she was of no value. She was only the daughter of a Second Wife, and a girl whom no one needed.
I worried, though, as I looked at my father. His plump lips were pressed into a thin line, his eyes were slits, and his hands were balled into fists. I whispered to a slave next to me a question that I suddenly had: "Where is my mother?"
The slave closed her eyes as they watered up.
"No…" I whispered in disbelief. Berenice wouldn't. Even though she was Berenice, she wouldn't.
My father suddenly hissed, "We will punish her, Cleopatra. We will punish this undeserving child of mine. She will learn that only daughters of Tryphaena can be queen."
A few weeks later, she was beheaded. But I was not satisfied. For I could not truly punish the demon that killed my mother.