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Monday, June 12, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Four


Once again we clustered around the staff. My stomach was already lurching, and the process hadn’t even started. Everything faded to black. I felt as if I was struggling through warm taffy, and at the same time travelling at great speed.

It took some time for my sight to return. I thought something had gone wrong, then realized we were standing in the shadow of a large tree. Insects sang, and water splashed in the distance. Fragrance drifted on the air. “Nate’s done it,” I said. “This must be the garden. Now we have to find the Library. Look for a building with a big dome.”

“Like that?" asked Brent, pointing past several trees. An immense white dome floated above them, glowing in the moonlight. Twin flagpoles rose in front of it, pennons hanging limply.

I nodded, my heart thumping. A winding path headed in the right direction, and I took it, the other two close behind me. As we walked the splashing grew louder, until it drowned out the rest of the night noises. Rounding a bend, we came across the source. A large basin of pale pink marble, perhaps 5 metres across, filled a small clearing. Water lilies floated on its surface, releasing a heavenly perfume. In the centre was a sculpture of three leaping dolphins, water spouting merrily from their mouths.

Someone gasped, and a slight figure rose from her seat on the edge of the basin. “Who goes there?” she called in Greek. She was garbed in the Egyptian style in a dress of fine linen, very nearly transparent. She looked our age or perhaps younger, with smooth skin, pale as ivory under the moon. Around her neck she wore a heavy beaded collar in blue and white. Dark, wavy hair fell to her shoulders, accented by a gold circlet with the figure of a hooded cobra over her brow.

The royal insignia. Cleopatra. An eternity passed as I stood and gaped. “Please forgive the intrusion, my queen,” I finally managed to say. “We are scholars, out to look at the stars.” Behind me, Brent gurgled.

“Astrologers,” she said slowly, relaxing. Her hand dropped to her side and I saw she held one of the water lilies. “Can you read my destiny?”

Ulp. I’m no geek, but even I know giving people information about future events is a bad idea. And if I did tell her the truth—that two of her lovers would be killed, and she would commit suicide, not to mention that her country would become a Roman province? Even if it didn’t change anything, she’d probably put us to death on the spot.

Luckily, Georgia was still thinking. “We have seen your future, oh queen. Much is veiled, but I can tell you that you will be remembered among the great ones.”

Her head went up, a fierce look kindling in her eyes. “Yes. Yes. I have always known it.” With the moonlight spilling down on her, she looked more like a goddess than a queen. No wonder Caesar and Anthony had loved her, and Rome feared her. She was the very essence of womanhood, distilled into one human being.

With a graceful movement, Cleopatra slid a bracelet in the shape of a coiled snake from her forearm, and handed it to Georgia. “My thanks go with it,” she said. “If you ever need a favour from me, present this.” The three of us bowed. She nodded briefly at us, then glided across the open area and entered the woods, walking towards the palace.

We stood there a few moments, numb with the shock of it, Georgia staring down at the bracelet in her cupped hand as if it really was a snake and might bite her. To talk to one of the great ones of history—my body tingled with awe. My heart raced and I felt vibrantly alive, yet a bit wistful. Whatever else happened to me, I was certain nothing would match this moment.

“Did you get that on camera?” Brent asked. Georgia froze, her face blanching, then turning rosy as the blood rushed to her cheeks.

“Oh no! I never thought—I was holding the staff behind me—it couldn’t have picked up anything.” She slid the bracelet onto her wrist for safekeeping and belatedly brought the staff around to record the image of the fountain.

“I didn't think of it either,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. Secretly, I was pleased. My memory of Cleopatra would remain mine, not shared with the rest of the world.

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