The Roman stood at the very center of the throne room. His eyes scanned the chamber, taking in every carving on the columns, every piece of stone in the intricate floor mosaic. All his. Every grain of sand in Egypt was now under his control, and the thought made him smile. As requested, he was alone in the room, with only the stomp of his elevated sandals to keep him company. For he was a short man, a trait he had always found uncomfortable. His tall shoes may have compensated in his youth, but he would need them no more. He was now a colossus among men.
He casually walked to the golden dais. A beautiful motif of carved lotus blossoms encircled the platform and the entire structure glittered with gold leaf. The throne itself was delicate in appearance. Carved of wood with cushions of Tyrian purple, it was embellished with tortoiseshell and lapis. How many men have stood before it trembling over the last 300 years, the Roman wondered. It was amazing how little power the structure held without a king, or queen, upon it.
He settled onto the cushions. His simple Roman toga did not match any of the opulence around him, but he knew that it didn’t have to. His great-uncle, the powerful Julius Caesar, had made that mistake. He was too firm in his approach to power and the Senate had stabbed his dreams away. And the lesson was learned. The Roman had accomplished all that his uncle could not, and the people would not hate him for it. They would reward him. He closed his eyes and imagined the throngs shouting his name. “Octavius! Octavius!”
It wouldn’t be long before he returned. His triumphal parade would be a spectacle remembered for generations. Mountains of gold, hundreds of captured soldiers. But his heart trembled at the thought of his main attraction. She would be chained and forced to walk through the streets as the crowds spat in her path and pelted her with garbage. “You whore, Cleopatra!” they would shout. And she knew what was coming.
Cleopatra herself witnessed her sister in the same position not long ago, when the younger woman waged war against Julius Caesar and lost. It was Roman custom, and Cleopatra deserved nothing less. Octavius smiled. He would be seen as more powerful than Caesar and Antony alike, both of whom succumbed to her charms. And he would exploit it. His writers had long been spinning the web of propaganda against Cleopatra, and she had lost. She would now go down in history as the whore of the Nile.
Octavius opened his eyes in irritation and embarrassment. It was unbecoming of a Roman to be seen on a throne.
“I said I didn’t wish to be disturbed,” he growled through clenched teeth.
“Forgive me, my Lord, but you should come quickly. The Queen… there was an incident.”
The blood rushed from Octavius’ face. His jaw tensed as he rushed past the attendant. He sprinted to the elaborate mausoleum where Cleopatra had been holding funerary rites for Marc Antony. The large bronze doors stood ajar, a feeble flickering of torchlight escaping out into the night. A small group of soldiers were standing outside the structure, their faces betraying fear and shame.
Octavius didn’t need to ask what happened. He knew she was plotting it, but his men were supposed to guard against it. His gaze chilled them to the bone as he entered the mausoleum.
Cleopatra lay atop a polished sarcophagus at the center of the alabaster chamber. The room was beautifully decorated with garlands and dozens of potted plants. Low tables of food, amphorae of wine, and burning incense stood throughout the room. He knew it was all tested for poison, so how did she do it? He approached her body. Her two attendants lay at the foot of the sarcophagus, equally dead. Despite their still forms, the three women looked peaceful, as if they had simply taken a nap. Their faces were absent of all the pains of poison.
Octavius leaned over the Queen’s body. She was regally dressed in a gown of gold. Her most elaborate crown framed her beautiful Grecian features. Her eyes were accented with kohl, her lips, almost smiling, were tinted red, and her cheeks had a shimmer of gold. She truly did look like a goddess.
In her hands, she held the crook and flail of Egypt, the symbols of the pharaoh’s power. And then he noticed the pricks of blood on her arm. Snakebite. She had somehow smuggled snakes into the room. His frustration was slightly subdued by an appreciation of her cunning. He gave her one last look and sighed. There was nothing he could do.
He turned to deal with his incompetent soldiers when his foot struck a lever hidden among the plants. It sent one of the pots crashing to the floor. He saw it before he felt it, a dark slithering across the stone. He looked down at his ankle, where blood was already running down to his sandal from two points. He panicked. The snakes were still there.
He rushed past the other plants in such haste that he tripped over one of the low tables of food. Another bite, this time on his arm. He saw the other serpents hidden throughout the room, agitated by the noise. Already he felt a numbness is his foot. He tried to stand but his leg would not respond. He collapsed again and shouted to his men.
“Get the serpent masters here now!” he commanded.
Two soldiers rushed into the chamber to carry their general out. Octavius looked up at Cleopatra one last time. Her delicate smile and serenity were a mockery of his exasperation.
“You bitch,” was all he could whisper as his soldiers dragged him away, his mind already light-headed with anxiety and the poison in his veins.