Monday, November 7


The harbor was a green and fragrant place, a bulwark against the dusty gold of the desert. There were fish and markets, scribes and antiquities. The sheep's-wool and wide-striped coarse cloth of the desert tribes sharing stall-space with the mist-weight silks and fine light linen of the river people, the tumultuous embroideries, sinuous animals and flowers of thread that had traveled from a strange and distant empire.

The scent of the market, nearly indescribable, a riot of offal and onions, thick cakes soaked in spiced honey, studded with nuts and dried fruits. Horses and baking bread, grilled meats and carefully tended vegetables. The endless perfume of flowers mingling with cones and piles of exquisite incense, precious scented oils, attar of rose, balms and fragrances and beeswax candles, the dry scents of papyrus and reed baskets, dried black figs and purple-dyed linen.

The sounds of happy people, amused or wry, light and pleasant, in many languages. The merchants and their customers alike, fat with good living, joking in slippery Greek or dark-spiced Egyptian, with so little of the solemn speech of Roman citizens, and less of the vulgar Latin of the sharp-faced legionnaires.

It was always a mystery, to him, to walk among them and remain unrecognized, to speak to the people in his clumsy Greek without terrifying them into silence. When the sun fell sharp behind the crimson slash of the horizon, and the night rose like a curtain all around us, we drank wine like madder velvet from silver bowls, drank deep. Our lips and fingers stained with pomegranate. Those nights are gone, torn like wet papyrus into shreds against the howling desert wind.

Today my harbor is full of quinqueremes and libernians and there is no bulwark against the legions. Our armies have joined with Octavian's. The remaining men mutter lies to my husband. People fleeing in the streets squeal that I have betrayed him. Hissing like snakes, their whispers tell him that I have abandoned him as I have abandoned all my husbands, condemning him to a traitor's fate. I cannot be here when he returns; how could I face that pain, the wrath of perceived righteousness?

I built the two of us a tomb. I wanted to sleep there with him, forever, the safest place in Alexandria, filled to the roof-beams with the treasures of Egypt and the Ptolemies, the pharaohs of Upper and Lower Egypt, buttery gold and carnelian. Malachite and lapis gleaming in every corner, jasper and turquoise and the silver bowls that once held our wine. I can send another messenger to my husband, can bid him come, meet me in the home I built for our long night together, but will he listen?

I pull away from the wide window, kohl-dark tears smudged along my cheekbones. The view of my desecrated harbor is spur enough to order my maids away, to pull my last pieces of jewelry out of trunks.  I look in the mirror and see, truly, at last. The Pharaoh of Egypt must always descend into the underworld, must weigh a heavy heart on golden scales. I will go to my tomb alone, though it is the last thing I ever wanted to do. I will await my husband, and we will prevail or die. We have no choice.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with "It was the last thing I would ever want to do, but I didn't have any other choice." and I challenged Mary Terrani with "King of Pentacles".

This is tagged "well-mined myth" for a reason. I wouldn't even call it "historical fiction".  Can't hit a home run every week, I suppose.