Thursday, May 26, 2011
Bonus- Read a DELETED scene from LILY OF THE NILE...*Contest*
Queen Cleopatra wore her black priestess gown–the one with the silver stars and the knot of Isis between her breasts. If she’d known her barge was going to arrive at the sacred isle while the blistering sun was this high, she would have worn the white linen that the Romans found so scandalous.
This time of year, ocean breezes cooled Alexandria, but here in Aswan was the driest and most withering heat anywhere in Egypt. Perspiration pooled between the queen’s shoulder blades and the servants fanned her with ostrich feathers, swaying in time with the rowers below deck, but their efforts were in vain. Even the queen’s small daughter complained of thirst.
“So drink!” Cleopatra commanded. “Iras set a cup of water right beside you.”
The girl’s fair hair coiled damply on her brow and her rose-pink lips formed a pout. “I don’t want water. Fat Mardion promised that if I came with you to Philae there’d be pomegranate juice. It’s what he drinks in the heat.”
“Which is why he’s Fat Mardion,” Cleopatra said archly, but her daughter wasn’t amused. In truth, Cleopatra wished she’d taken her trusted eunuch along because he was indulgent with the children whereas the queen herself wasn’t very patient.
It wasn’t that Selene was an ill-mannered child; it was just that the girl didn’t like to be apart from her twin brother and Cleopatra supposed she should have taken some solace in her children’s love for one another. After all, she had been raised in a nest of fratricidal Ptolemy eaglets, each willing to tear the other to shreds and her earliest terrors were born of the days when her siblings fought for the throne of Egypt.
Luckily, none of her own four children showed signs of murderous ambition. No, her children loved each other as brothers and sisters should—except for the twins, who held some bond between them that went beyond love. When separated, Selene and Helios were like half a person each, one brooding, the other complaining until they were reunited once again. Their bond touched the queen’s heart, but it also worried her, for she’d seen into the Nile of Eternity…
The oarsmen pulled up their paddles as the barge approached the landing. “Do we swim now?” Selene asked and without waiting for an answer, the girl pulled the ribbons from her hair and threw them on the deck with a flourish. Not a single servant even looked askance, delighted as they all were with the antics of the queen’s little girl.
On the riverbank, the priests had gathered. Musicians played their double-reeded clarinets, serving girls threw pink flower petals into the water, and worshippers knelt in homage to Queen Cleopatra, their Pharaoh and the New Isis. Soon, she’d greet them and give the blessings they craved from her. Then, she’d visit the Nilometer, which would tell her whether her people would feast this year, or starve. But first, before any of this, before everything, she must be a bride of Egypt. She must be Isis for Osirus. She must be divine wife to divine husband.
Iras and Charmion were already disrobing her for the ritualized lovemaking when Selene whined, “Why couldn’t Helios come with us? He’d protect us from the crocodiles.”
“Crocodiles will never harm you,” the queen said. “You’re a child of Isis and sacred to all in Egypt, even the beasts. Besides, your brothers aren’t with us because there are some things only queens can do.”
This caught her daughter’s attention. “There are things kings can’t do? Not even Kings of Egypt, like Caesarion?”
“Can a man suckle an infant?” Cleopatra asked as her hair was unbound. “Neither can a king nourish his kingdom. He can protect and defend it. He can rule his people justly. But he cannot feed his people except through Isis. This is why no man comes to be Pharaoh without wedding Pharaoh’s daughter, and why your brother Caesarion will one day need you to be a very good wife and queen.”
Selene’s emerald gaze was very shrewd and the queen decided that she’d been right to take the girl on this journey, even at so young an age. “Every year, the river rises to wash away all the dead vegetation from the dry cracked land. It deposits black fertile soil in its place. Then the farmers grow their wheat, and the laborers cut the wheat with their scythes and the bakers make it into bread.”
“I know that.” Selene gave a delicate, and very regal, roll of her eyes.
“Then tell me why the Nile rises?” Cleopatra asked, stepping out of her black robes without inhibition. Her naked body wasn’t as perfect as it once was, but since having children of her own, she was more womanly now and perhaps more beautiful to the river god that awaited her.
“Is it part of the mysteries?” Selene asked.
“One of many. It is love,” the queen explained. “No man can rise to create life without a lover, and neither can the river.” She saw that Selene didn’t understand, so she continued, “Before the dark god Set cut Osirus into pieces, he first drowned the good god of grain in the Nile. Here at Philae, on these very river banks is where Isis first wept for her murdered husband. This is where she brought him back to life with her magic. The spirit of Osiris lives here now, in the depths of the river. Here, he waits for his love, for Isis, and each year he swells to make love to her.”
“And she comes to him as Egypt’s queen…”
“Just so,” Cleopatra said, removing her amethyst ring–a gift from Antony, a wedding ring, though Octavian’s propagandists claimed otherwise. “And so, no matter which man you take into your heart, when it comes to the land you rule, you must always love it like a faithful wife. Today we will meet the Nile and make tribute to it, like a bride to a bridegroom.”
“I’m too little to be a bride,” Selene pointed out.
Cleopatra sighed at her daughter’s innocence. “Not for long, My Sweet. One day, you’ll be a beautiful maiden, then a loving mother, and then, hopefully, a wise old crone. But of these three, it’s your life as a mother that will serve Egypt best.”
“And please the king,” Selene said.
“No.” Cleopatra stiffened. “Have a child for Isis, for Egypt and for yourself before you do it to please any man. Your children will be rulers, and their divine ichor come to them through their mother’s milk–no matter who their father might be.”
“But what of the divine Julius?”
What of him, indeed? Oh, the heartbreak! But, Cleopatra stilled her heart. There was still Caesarion, there was still Egypt, and there were her little twins, from whom the whole world expected great things.
“I loved Gaius,” Cleopatra said with as matter-of-fact a tone as she could muster when speaking of Caesar. “But I loved him too much. I stayed too long as a mortal with Caesar in Rome, and without me, the Nile fell below the cubits of death and my people suffered. It was a mistake I’ll never make again.”
With that, the queen allowed her servants to lower her down the ladder until she was standing in the shallows. The mud of the Nile was like silken bed sheets beneath her feet. The river was as warm as a lotus scented bath, and as the frogs sang their chorus, heka tingled at Cleopatra’s fingertips. Feeling the magic flowing through her, the queen held her arms out to her daughter.
“Come, Selene. Meet Osirus.”
Selene lingered at the side of the barge, unwilling to come down the ladder even when the servants encouraged her into the river. It was only when Cleopatra commanded it that the girl leapt with a splash. Her little feet didn’t reach the bottom, and she flailed in the water until the queen caught her under the arms. “Shhh, Selene. You carry Isis with you wherever you go, but you’ve been promised to Egypt. The Nile waits here, pining for your love. For your surrender and rapturous embrace.”
With that, the queen loosened her hold, knowing the little girl would have to swim on her own. Already, the Nile’s green waves lapped at Cleopatra’s consciousness, drawing her into the marshy reeds of a waking dream where life teemed.
“She is the resurrection.,” Cleopatra prayed. “She brings life from death. She gives to her kingdom an heir, she gives to her people their daily sustenance, and she gives Isis an embodiment on earth for Osiris to love.”
Cleopatra saw the frog and the minnows, the life-giving silt settling onto the fields beyond, and everywhere she turned in the water, the birds flocked and water lilies blossomed. With her fingers, she traced lazy circles into the river bringing fish leaping to the surface. She passed dried brown foliage as she made her way to shore, and it sprouted green with life again. She gazed upon the washed up carcass of a snake and it arose, coiled and shimmering. It was an Egyptian cobra and its hood swelled for her like the phallus of an eager lover.
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PURCHASE LILY OF THE NILE
*Stephanie will be giving away a KINDLE version of Lily of the Nile to one lucky commenter! Winner will be picked at RANDOM once the spotlight is over! Be sure to leave your E-mail address with your comment so we may contact you should you win!*