Read Antony and Cleopatra Online

Authors: Colleen McCullough

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Antonius; Marcus, #Egypt - History - 332-30 B.C, #Biographical, #Cleopatra, #Biographical Fiction, #Romans, #Egypt, #Rome - History - Civil War; 49-45 B.C, #Rome, #Romans - Egypt

Antony and Cleopatra (9 page)

But how to tell Caesarion that he wouldn’t—
couldn’t
—be here? Instinct said that Antony was going to forget continence, play the role of Neos Dionysos wholeheartedly. He was also her son’s cousin. If Caesarion were in Alexandria, they couldn’t be kept apart. And obviously Caesarion dreamed of meeting the great warrior, not understanding that the great warrior would present in the guise of the great reveler.

So the silence persisted until Sosigenes cleared his throat and pushed his chair back to stand.

“Your Majesties, may I speak?” he asked.

Caesarion answered. “Speak,” he commanded.

“Young Pharaoh is now six, yet he is still under the care of a palace full of women. Only in the gymnasium and the hippodrome does he enter a world of men, and they are his subjects. Before they can talk to him, they must prostrate themselves. He sees nothing odd in this: he is Pharaoh. But with the visit of Marcus Antonius young Pharaoh will have a chance to associate with men who are not his subjects, and who will not prostrate themselves. Who will ruffle his hair, cuff him gently, joke with him. Man to man. Pharaoh Cleopatra, I know why you wish to send young Pharaoh to Memphis, I understand—”

Cleopatra cut him short. “Enough, Sosigenes! You forget yourself! We will finish this conversation after young Pharaoh has left the room—which he will do
now
!”

“I will not leave,” said Caesarion.

Sosigenes continued, visibly shaking in terror. His job—also his head—was in peril, but
someone
had to say it. “Your Majesty, you cannot send young Pharaoh away, either now to finish this, or later to shield him from the Romans. Your son is crowned and anointed Pharaoh and King. In years he may be a child, but in what he is, he is a man. It is time that he associated freely with men who do not prostrate themselves. His father was a Roman. It is time he learned more of Rome and Romans than he could as a babe during the time when you lived in Rome.”

Cleopatra felt her face afire, wondered how much of what she experienced was written on it. Oh, bother the wretched boy, to take his stand so publicly! He knew how servants gossiped—it would be all over the palace in an hour, all over the city tomorrow.

And she had lost. Everybody present knew it.

“Thank you, Sosigenes,” she said after a very long pause, “I appreciate your advice. It is the right advice. Young Pharaoh must stay in Alexandria to mingle with the Romans.”

The boy didn’t whoop with glee or caper about. He nodded regally and said, gazing at his mother with expressionless eyes, “Thank you, Mama, for deciding not to go to war.”

Apollodorus shooed everyone out of the room, including young Pharaoh; as soon as she was left alone with Charmian and Iras, Cleopatra burst into tears.

“It had to happen,” said Iras, the practical one.

“He was cruel,” said Charmian, the sentimental one.

“Yes,” said Cleopatra through her tears, “he was cruel. All men are, it is their nature. They are not content to live on equal terms with women.” She mopped her face. “I have lost a tiny fraction of my power—he has wrested it from me. By the time he is twenty, he will have all the power.”

“Let us hope,” said Iras, “that Marcus Antonius is kind.”

“You saw him in Tarsus. Did you think him kind then?”

“Yes, when you let him. He was uncertain, so he blustered.”

“Isis must take him as her husband,” said Charmian, sighing, eyes misty. “What man could be unkind to Isis?”

“To take him as husband is not to yield power. Isis will gather it,” said Cleopatra. “But what will my son say when he realizes that his mother is giving him a stepfather?”

“He will take it in his stride,” said Iras.

 

 

Antony’s flagship, an overlarge quinquereme high in the poop and bristling with catapults, was bidden to tie up in the Royal Harbor. And there, waiting on the wharf under a golden canopy of state stood both incarnations of Pharaoh, though not clad in pharaonic regalia. Cleopatra wore a simple robe of pink wool and Caesarion a Greek tunic, oatmeal trimmed with purple. He had wanted to wear a toga, but Cleopatra had told him that no one in Alexandria could show the palace seamstresses how to make one. She thought that the best way to avoid giving Caesarion the news that he wasn’t allowed to wear a toga because he wasn’t a Roman citizen.

If it had been Caesarion’s ambition to steal his mother’s thunder, he succeeded; when Antony strode down the gangplank onto the wharf, his eyes were fixed on Caesarion.

“Ye gods!” he exclaimed as he reached them. “Caesar all over again! Boy, you’re his living image!”

Knowing himself tall for his age, Caesarion felt suddenly dwarfed; Antonius was
huge
! None of which mattered when Antony bent down and lifted him up effortlessly, settled him on a left arm bulging with muscles beneath many folds of toga. Behind him Dellius was beaming; it was left to him to greet Cleopatra, walk at her side up the path from the jetty looking at the pair well in front, the boy’s golden head thrown back as he laughed at some Antonian jest.

“They have taken to each other,” Dellius said.

“Yes, haven’t they?” It was spoken tonelessly. Then she squared her shoulders. “Marcus Antonius hasn’t brought as many friends with him as I expected.”

“There were jobs to do, Your Majesty. I know Antonius hopes to meet some Alexandrians.”

“The Interpreter, the Recorder, the Chief Judge, the Accountant, and the Night Commander are eager to attend on him.”

“The
Accountant
?”

“They are just names, Quintus Dellius. To be one of those five men is to be of pure Macedonian stock going back to the barons of Ptolemy Soter. They are the Alexandrian aristocrats,” Cleopatra said, sounding amused. What, after all, is Atticus if not an accountant, and would any Roman of patrician family scorn Atticus? “We have not planned a reception for this evening,” Cleopatra went on. “Just a quiet supper for Marcus Antonius alone.”

“I’m sure he’ll like that,” said Dellius smoothly.

 

 

When Caesarion couldn’t keep his eyes open, his mother firmly packed him off to bed, then dismissed the servants to leave her alone with Antony.

Alexandria didn’t have a proper winter, just a slight chill in the air after sunset that meant the breeze walls were closed. After Athens, more extreme, Antony found it delightful, could feel himself relaxing as he hadn’t in months. And the lady had been an interesting dinner companion—when she managed to get a word in edgewise; Caesarion had bombarded Antony with a staggering variety of questions. What was Gaul like? What was Philippi really like? How did it feel to command an army? And on, and on, and on.

“He wore you out,” she said now, smiling.

“More curiosity than a fortune-teller before she tells your fortune. But he’s clever, Cleopatra.” A grimace of distaste twisted his face. “As precocious as the other Caesar’s heir.”

“Whom you detest.”

“That’s too mild a verb. Loathe, more like.”

“I hope you can find it in you to like my son.”

“Much better than I expected to.” His eyes traveled over the lamps set around the room, squinting. “It’s too bright,” he said.

In answer she slid from the couch, picked up a snuffer, and quenched all save those flames that didn’t shine in Antony’s face. “Have you a headache?” she asked, returning to the couch.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“Would you like to retire?”

“Not if I can lie here quietly and talk to you.”

“Of course you can.”

“You didn’t believe me when I said I was falling in love with you, but I spoke the truth.”

“I have silver mirrors, Antonius, and they tell me that I am not the kind of woman you fall in love with. Fulvia, for example.”

He grinned, his small white teeth flashing. “And Glaphyra, though you never saw her. A delectable piece of work.”

“Whom clearly you did not love, to say that about her. But Fulvia you do love.”

“Used to, more like. At the moment she’s a nuisance, with her war against Octavianus. A futile business, badly conducted.”

“A very beautiful woman.”

“Past her prime, at forty-three. We’re much of an age.”

“She’s given you sons.”

“Aye, but too young yet to know what they’re made of. Her grandfather was Gaius Gracchus, a great man, so I hope for good boys. Antyllus is five, Iullus still a baby. A good mare, Fulvia. Four by Clodius—two girls, two boys—a boy by Curio, and mine.”

“The Ptolemies breed well too.”

“With only one chick in your nest, you can say that?”

“I am Pharaoh, Marcus Antonius, which means that I cannot mate with mortal men. Caesar was a god, therefore a fit mate for me. We had Caesarion quickly, but then”—she sighed—“no more. Not for want of trying, I can assure you.”

Antony laughed. “No, I can see why he wouldn’t tell you.”

Stiffening, she lifted her head to look at him, her big, golden eyes reflecting the light of a lamp behind Antony’s close-cropped curls. “Tell me what?” she asked.

“That he’d sire no more children on you.”

“You lie!”

Surprised, he too lifted his head. “Lie? Why should I?”

“How would I know your reasons? I simply know that you lie!”

“I speak the truth. Search your mind, Cleopatra, and you’ll know that. Caesar, to sire a girl for his son to marry? He was a Roman through and through, and Romans do not approve of incest. Not even between nieces and uncles or nephews and aunts, let alone brothers and sisters. First cousins are considered a risk.”

The disillusionment crashed upon her like a massive wave—Caesar, of whose love she was so sure, had led her a dance of pure deception! All those months in Rome, hoping and praying for a pregnancy that never happened—and he knew, he knew! The God out of the West had deceived her, all for the sake of some stupid Roman shibboleth! She ground her teeth, growled in the back of her throat. “He deceived me,” she said then, dully.

“Only because he didn’t think you’d understand. I see that he was right,” said Antony.

“Were you Caesar, would you have done that to me?”

“Oh, well,” said Antony, rolling over to come a little closer to her, “my feelings are not so fine.”

“I am destroyed! He cheated me, and I loved him so much!”

“Whatever happened is in the past. Caesar’s dead.”

“And I have to have the same conversation with you that once I had with him,” Cleopatra said, furtively wiping her eyes.

“What conversation is that?” he asked, trailing a finger down her arm.

This time she didn’t remove it. “Nilus has not inundated in four years, Marcus Antonius, because Pharaoh is barren. To heal her people, Pharaoh must conceive a child with the blood of gods in its veins. Your blood is Caesar’s blood—on your mother’s side you are a Julian. I have prayed to Amun-Ra and Isis, and they have told me that a child of your loins would please them.”

Not exactly a declaration of love! How did a man answer such a dispassionate explanation? And did he, Marcus Antonius, want to commence an affair with such a cold-blooded little woman? A woman who genuinely believed what she said. Still, he thought, to sire gods on earth would be a new experience—one in the eye for old Caesar, the family martinet!

He took her hand, lifted it to his lips, and kissed it. “I would be honored, my Queen. And while I can’t speak for Caesar, I
do
love you.”

Liar, liar! she cried in her heart. You are a Roman, in love with nothing beyond Rome. But I will use you, as Caesar used me. “Will you share my bed while you are in Alexandria?”

“Gladly,” he said, and kissed her.

It was pleasant, not the ordeal she had imagined; his lips were cool and smooth, and he didn’t shove his tongue inside her mouth at this first, tentative exploration. Just lips against lips, gentle and sensuous.

“Come,” she said, picking up a lamp.

Her bedroom was not far away; these were Pharaoh’s private quarters, on the small side. He pulled his tunic off—no loincloth underneath—and untied the bows that held her dress up at the shoulders. It fell in a puddle around her as she sat on the edge of the bed.

“Skin is good,” he murmured, stretching out beside her. “I won’t hurt you, my Queen. Antonius is a good lover, he knows what kind of love to give a frail little creature like you.”

As indeed he did. Their coupling was slow and amazingly pleasant, for he stroked her body with smooth hands and paid her breasts delightful attention. Despite his assurances that he would not, he would have hurt her had she not given birth to Caesarion, though he teased her into torment before he entered her, and knew how to use that enormous member in many ways. He let her come to climax before he did, and her climax astonished her. It seemed a betrayal of Caesar, yet Caesar had betrayed her, so what did it matter? And, greatest gift of all, he didn’t remind her of Caesar in any respect. What she had with Antony belonged to Antony. Different, too, to find that within moments of each climax he was ready for her again, and almost embarrassing to count the number of her own climaxes. Was she so starved? The answer, obviously, was yes. Cleopatra the monarch was once again a woman.

 

 

Caesarion was thrilled that she had taken the great Marcus Antonius as her lover. In that respect he was not naive. “Will you marry him?” he asked, dancing about in glee.

“In time, perhaps,” she said, profoundly relieved.

“Why not now? He is the mightiest man in the world.”

“Because it is too soon, my son. Let Antonius and I learn first if our love will bear the responsibilities of marriage.”

As for Antony, he was bursting with pride. Cleopatra was not the first sovereign he had bedded, but she was by far the most important. And, he had discovered, her sexual attentions lay halfway between those of a professional whore and a dutiful Roman wife. Which suited him. When a man embarked upon a relationship destined to last for more than a night, he needed neither one nor the other, so Cleopatra was perfect.

All of which may have accounted for his mood on the first evening when his mistress entertained him lavishly; the wine was superb and the water rather bitter, so why add water and spoil a great vintage? Antony let go of his good intentions without even realizing that he had, and got happily, hopelessly drunk.

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