Egypt 69 B.C.
The Queen of Egypt is at her palace in Alexandria...
Hand-painted wings of Isis contrast silver and indigo feathers between a gold plated moon. Seven tiny blood red grooves are carved into each feather. Beaded-silk sashes start to blur as Tryphaena looks up the granite pillars.
She whispers in agony, “One for each breath.”
Dizzy, she is thinking, “...Quick breaths... Seven in fast, then seven out...” She screams from the contractions on her last exhale. Several wet-nurses are at her side and caring for the Queen.
“I see feet!” says the midwife. “Twins!”
She takes her eyes off Tryphaena and motions to every Nubian wet-nurse. “Go! Have them prepare. Fetch my tools and more cloth. Bring more hot and cold water. Push the feather fans faster. Cool her skin with wet sea sponges. Carefully rinse her hair, without wetting her face.”
The midwife washes her hands again in warm water making sure her fingernails are clean. Pulling a white silk cloth from an engraved brass bowl, she purges the water and clears sweat from Tryphaena’s forehead.
“I know,” sighs Tryphaena. “Keep breathing, don’t push.”
“Take this. A coconut-kava-honey tincture,” says the midwife. It is very powerful. It will ease your pain and help relax you for the rest of this childbirth.”
Tryphaena takes a sip and smiles, “Gods know no limit to pain! Simply delicious... Thank you Heqet,” she says. Her eyes start to blink a few times, then faster, and her consciousness gently fades.
The next morning in the Queen’s Bedchambers...
Daylight dawns and the sleepless eyes of the midwife are dark with fatigue. Tryphaena awakens with twin newborn girls asleep by her side. Curious songbirds send out calls, both women should be hearing the Pharaoh play his flute in the palace gardens, the two women stare at each other.
“Twin girls my Queen. Will you name one after yourself?” asks the midwife. “I’ll get you water.” Then she pauses and breathes. Sunlight penetrates a carved parade of elephants along the sheer ivory walls of the drinking goblet. The water sparkles as she pours.
“Who was first born?” asks Tryphaena. “She shall be named Cleopatra. Her sister shall be Arsinoe, after Ptolemy tradition.”
The two women look with kindness upon the face of each sleeping newborn. Tryphaena sits up to drink but, weakness and pain burn across her abdomen. She moans, spills the goblet, and the twins start crying.
“My Queen!?” asks the midwife picking up the ivory cup and motions the wet-nurses.
“No wait! I want to hold them,” says Tryphaena to her attendants. “It’s thoughts of my thoughtless husband, as much as the pain,” she says to her midwife. “He can’t be happy about daughters.” Tryphaena looks down to each newborn girl and whispers, “Will you, and you, be safe?” Unable to shelter expressions of guilt she asks the midwife, “Will they be safe? Are my daughters safe?”
The midwife commands with a loud voice, “Leave us! Please!” Her instructions echo throughout the bedchamber. Personal servants, breakfast attendants, fan holders, and guards all rush out.
She waits, then continues with a soft voice, “Ptolemy is lost, my Queen. His debts to Rome hold a tight grasp over us.” Surveying the chamber in chaotic directions, she continues, “I fear as you do. I will take every risk to save your twins girls. The first born has a small birthmark.”
“Thank you Heqet,” says Tryphaena. Her eyes glisten and release a tear. “It’s been twelve generations of Ptolemy men. The next ruler of Egypt must be a woman.”
After a long silence, Tryphaena speaks in a ratcheting outburst, “My husband... my brother! Yet, to him... I am a wife that can birth no sons!” She is uncomfortable, rocking back and forth on the bed but continues, “Berenice is only nine, he will eventually force her, rather than come to me?” She turns away with a blank stare speaking to the air, “Then I lay hopeless to the whims of greedy Roman men? It rips at my soul to know gods do not care for their children. Her face blooms more pale and hollow-eyed each moment as pain and depression overtake her posture.
The midwife interrupts, “Tryphaena!” then tries to make eye contact, “But... you are his sister...and he... the mobs would surely riot!” Both women pause from the sound of each twin crying. They look up, each releasing a subtle smile toward the other.
The room fades into a loving calm silence as the wet-nurses breastfeed the twins. They gently sway about and taking turns nurturing the newborns and all hum together a peaceful lullaby restoring serenity.
Several hours later in the palace...
Footsteps approach in the distance, the pace is militaristic and rhythmic. Loud steps echo with intent between palace columns and corridors. Hearing this, the midwife silently dismisses the wet-nurses and other attendants who looked worried. They all leave with haste.
The marching gets louder. Tryphaena is on the verge of hysteria but, unmoved from the beaded-gold silk covering her bed. Standing rigid in front of her, the midwife’s eyebrows squeeze down as she glares toward the chamber entry.
The voice of the Vizer booms outside behind elongated double doors, “My Queen!”
Tryphaena answers, with a wicked-demonic voice, “You will not take my daughters!”
The twins start screaming and the doors blast open. A siege of thirteen men enters the room. They are armed and stand at attention in various positions around the bedchamber.
Last to enter is Pothinus. He takes several short-legged heavy foot-steps toward Tryphaena. The midwife also takes several dominate steps forward.
Pothinus shouts, “Heqet! Stop! You will step aside! Move now, or your blood pools on this floor.”
Using his full-bellied torso he pushes her slight stature aside and he casts a careless stare. Six of the men move in with spear points, further astounding the two women. Tryphaena is unable to stand and has silent tears on her face. She holds the angered newborns looking radically from side to side. Like a trapped animal she locks eyes with Pothinus. Weeping as if guilty, then she looks down at her twins, and thinks, “...my newborn daughters, the two new girls born from my body, together your hearts weigh less than a feather...”
Heqet is now kneeling on the floor under spear point next to Tryphaena’s bed. Pothinus looks back at Heqet and demands, “If she moves, or speaks, kill her.”
He looks back at Tryphaena and raises his right arm forming a fist. He points his index finger upward and winces at the Queen. He looks at her as if he was her husband. Then, his wrist cocked, finger folded and arm dropped to his side. At that moment a bowstring releases from across the room.
Tryphaena releases a final convulsive breath. Directly into her skull, an ear sized arrowhead gave her no time to know pain. Her head contorts sideways. Her torso falls backward, the bed, the mutilated head, and war arrow growing evermore red. The crying newborns are covered in tiny crimson droplets when Pothinus scoops them up under his arms and onto his fat belly.
“Well then, let Heqet live,” proclaims Pothinus while grinning and switching both screaming babies carelessly to one arm. “Ptolemy will feed these swine to the crocodiles!” he gloats looking at the midwife. Then Pothinus thumb-prints the dead Queen’s blood onto Heqet’s forehead. Spinning around his fat-face is grinning with the newborns in his arms. Not even old enough to open eyes, he parades off with the twins. Leaving behind the blood and chaos, as his war-disciples follow.
Three days later in a temple near to the palace...
Gold-plated crocodile skulls hang on the walls above head height. All jaws point upward and each eye-socket supports torchlight. Amber tones fractal about the large underground chamber. A square emerald pool centers the entire space. Small ripples often pace across the water. Two giant crocodiles lie alongside the pool next to stone pits filled with fire coals. They are well-fed reptiles, adorned with gold bands and jewelry. Unconsecrated, a plain reed casket containing Tryphaena’s wrapped body is beside the priest on a black granite altar. He is in ceremonial garments as Heqet enters his temple.
She walks to him and queries with caution, “Sobek are we alone?” then her eyes orbit the room.
“Yes,” his voice echoing inhuman and garbled within the crocodile headdress. Removing it awkwardly, he sets it on the glossy sacrificial granite slab next to him. “Yes,” He nods respectfully to her. “I prepared everything you asked. Raw chicken will bait our females within city canals. Make your underwater pathway, they will follow it.”
Moving across the room and pointing out three containers Sobek continues, “These have the genitals of young male crocodiles. Place them outside the city to draw male predators away from the palace.”
He walks back to Heqet lowering his tone. “Pothinus ordered bodies floated tomorrow. What he did was wrong! I play along to save my life. May that moonless night, bless us. Hurry Heqet!”
“We all do,” she says dropping a fist-sized gray suede pouch of coins and it clatters onto the granite slab.
Adjusting her robes and looking toward the restful twins she nods to him. Moving across the chambers she picks up the wax-sealed clay jars. Then Heqet leaves rushing up a long corridor of winding stone stairs.
Sobek looks back to the newborns. They are calm, quiet, warm, fed, and sleeping. Each infant lay cuddled in cloth in a floating basket of woven reeds. He takes small load-stones off a plate. After shaking a few drops of eucalyptus oil on each one, he wraps them in common-cloth placing a few in each basket.
“Protecting you from Pharaoh and mosquitoes.” he murmurs almost unintelligibly looking up about the room at no one. Still wearing the headdress, he extracts the gold coins and counts them into a lock-box. Then he frantically continues preparing while mumbling stories in Egyptian to the sleeping twins.
The next day after sunset on a moonless night...
Only stars light the night sky. However, ladies of the palace, hand-crafted luminous pyramidal lanterns to float alongside the three reed caskets before its journey to ashes.
High above the canal in a palace tower, a dim flicker of light fills a small round room. Pothinus holds a torch and stands beside his archer. Both men look out the tiny tower window into the canal below, then at each other.
“Don’t look at me, shoot those little bald-headed one-braided children, I will not be having them feed the crocodiles!” says Pothinus.
Three arrows knock a war-bow held between each finger of the archer who sights out the window frame. Then Pothinus holds the torch looking across the room to the silhouette of Pharaoh Ptolemy.
“Ptolemy steals my fun,” says the Archer looking to the room’s entrance.
“Have you not come to watch us?” inquires Pothinus who lights the arrowheads then commands, “Fire!”
The archer pulls his aim off the children below and launches three flaming arrows toward the canal hitting Tryphaena’s floating casket.
“She was my... sister, Pothinus?” questions Ptolemy.
“Why not play your flute for her, Auletes? answers Pothinus. Only your harem cares, they can not stop me.” “I keep you out of debt with Rome, thus more you spend.” His face exits the tower’s window frame, then he continues, “Now, her daughter must now provide you a son!”
From underwater the temple reptiles guide the caskets leaving the floating lanterns behind. After many paces, the twins tether away from the flaming body of Tryphaena into the shadows.
Heqet and several wet-nurses meet a few miles from the palace near the library of Alexandria. Together they walk in the darkness on uneven streets toward the city harbor.
“There they are,” says Heqet. “Quietly, bring the ropes and help me lift them out of the canal.”
Nine months later in Alexandria...
Ganymedes and his wife sit together in a luxurious office ready to adopt twin girls. It had been several months since their good news. Two administrative assistants filter through a rack of embossed wooden stamps. They use an ink-pad to print the adoption on papyrus. After every page layout, and on separate desks, a scribe writes then an artist paints the agreement.
Watching this process the husband thinks, sighing to himself, “...will this keep her home?.. we’ve never wanted kids... why am I attracted to a tyrant...”
Several minutes later...
After the last page transfers over to the artist, a lawyer enters and speaks looking to the new father.
“Again remember part of your required military supplement Ganymedes, is automatically subtracted from the yearly dowry. This makes accounting simple since we do not bill the military. Also, it unites all military children in mandatory daycare and learning at all of Egypt’s libraries or temples.”
Looking away from her husband his wife thinks, “...Yearly money? suddenly it’s not the bargain I had hoped for... I need wine, opium... move to a cheaper city, Saqqara? eventually, divorce him...”
“I understand,” says Ganymedes.
“You help us keep peace with Rome and congratulations on the adoption of these twins.” The lawyer stands across from him, meets with both eyes and a positive happy handshake.
His wife reacts to the handshake and shifts thoughts, focusing back on the current conversation. She changes her posture and expression to attention and excitement. The lawyer turns away from her husband to shake her hand. She meets with late timing but places a second hand on top.
Quick to speak she says, “I’m so blessed to become a mother, thank you. Thank you so very much. I’ve never been happier!”
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