63 B.C. Egypt: part 2
“Brother, wake up!” She slaps the top of his hooded head and says, “Look at these! Two little leeches, one dripping blood on our rugs.”
The twins kneel and submit on the back of the cart. Each girl stares silent with wide scared eyes. They watch her brother sit upright.
The brother slurs as his unstable head rolls about, “Two mosquitoes. Off with them...”
“About time we agree on something,” replies his sister. “But they claim some kind of reward.”
With an alert sharper tone he says, “Lies from Saqqaran swine sister.”
“Gods, we have no time to sell them in the markets!” she finishes and jolts back a black horse whip as if to strike.
“We will go,” interrupts Cleopatra. Her voice cracks with a throat clenching tone, “We will go!”
Sisters’ grasp hands and immediately jump off the cart. They stumble on a hard and fast landing together.
The cart rolls on and the merchants do not look back. Alone on the road without supplies, the two girls pat dust off each other. Then, the tearful sisters embrace.
From a dune the twins overlook lush lands that surround a massive city shining bright against the banks of the Nile. Leading there is an uneven dirt road. Small shards of chipped limestone make walking difficult for the girls. They are silent and holding hands while taking slow steps. Off the road, large cracked stones yield to plant life as they descend closer Memphis.
A large caravan steals the road from behind them. Merchant wagons pass along with camels, horses, mules, caged creatures, and groups of people. A noisy dust cloud clatters by. One female, camel rider, looks down at the two girls. She sees their dirty injured faces and matted black hair. Without speaking or looking back she tosses aside a goat-skin on the road. It had landed just a few hundred paces ahead of the girls. Her camel continues to lope forward.
Arsinoe picks it up. Opening the top she smells and thinks, “... It’s clean...” Deeming it safe she hands it to her sister for approval.
After quenching her thirst Cleopatra says. “Glad she didn’t sell slaves. Memphis looks bigger than stories.”
Arsinoe’s eyes bursts with anticipation,“Imagine the library. We saw the same old scrolls in Saqqara. How many will they have?”
“Thanks to drunk mother we learn more than older boys,” replies Cleopatra. “Now we live under father’s name. No coins to enter? Are we hiding with merchants?”
“Tally men can’t blink us by,” says Arsinoe. Then continues with a sullen voice, “How do we make new friends?”
As the two girls approach the city, the road grows dusty from crowds of people and animals. A toll checkpoint greets all travelers. The gatehouse is formidable with six separate square-arched entrances. It has low walls connecting to sky high city gates. Several workers scurry to their tasks and archers patrol from atop the walls.
Hundreds of tents and gypsy campsites concentrate against the outer walls of Memphis. Loud voices of restless travelers and impatient merchants clash. There is a thick blend of dust, human odor, and animal smells that saturate the air. The two girls find themselves swept up with everyone else into a cluttered line. They stand hand in hand and lock fingers.
“Move aside, make a path!” A thick-shouldered Persian man brutes past the twins and several people. Engraved gold bands shine bright on his stout tattooed arms. He continues moving with intent through the crowd. “Keep it moving,” he demands busting forward toward the toll keeper. “Shall I pay the way for all who wait?”
Arsinoe leads Cleopatra in a wake forming behind him. He confronts his way to the front of the line. There is a horse cart with two merchants who are detained for cargo inspection. A female yells accusations at male. The Persian man seeing this stops and takes one long slow breath. He gathers coins tucking them into his list of passengers and cargo. Slowly, from several steps away he approaches the window ledge of the toll keeper.
“They should have stayed in Saqqara,” says the toll keeper with eyes on the Persian man. “In Memphis they are criminals.”
“If there may be any delay between now and my caravan. Live, but let die.” says the Persian. He lifts his list and flashes nine silver coins inside.
“We are aligned in the same mind,” says the toll keeper nodding his head. “You save us both time. I shall return. Please just one moment.”
Confident in the bribe he exits the booth. Walking over to the head guard the toll man issues three coins and instructions. The twins and the Persian watch the merchants but are unable to hear. The six armed guards confiscate four bundles and with force escort the two merchants away. Walking back past everyone to the booth the toll man says nothing. Once inside he makes a record, then leans back out the open window looking left then right.
“Is this your horse-cart blocking the way?” the toll keeper says with a smile.
The Persian grins in return and retrieves his cargo list from the toll man. He lunges up onto the merchant cart and cues the two horses away.
The toll keeper shouts looking back and forth.“Next, Next Please!”
The girls each look to see if anyone else moves. There are swarms of people several feet behind them.
“You there.. the two of you. Children come... what is your business in Memphis?” The toll man’s tone demands and answer.
“We are lost and seeking our school,” answers Arsinoe. The twins still united hand in hand and side by side.
“Plates and scrolls are in the Greek quarter, go!” he yells. “Do not be lost again!”
The girls are allocated by the tally man who nods at them to enter. They step through the causeway. The courtyard is massive, crowded and fast-paced with all six toll gates merging. The next caravan entering quickly closes in behind them. Everyone and their cargo collide into chaos.
“Do not let go of my hand,” says Cleopatra holding tight with white interlocked fingers.
“Let us follow the walls not crowds,” replies Arsinoe as she looks around holding her sister close.