Friday, October 13, 2006

CLEOPATRA by Nelma Ward

(A writing assignment where a change of words would have changed history)

I am Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and grieving most mightily for my lover, Mark Antony. Our conqueror, Octavian, has had him slain, and knows in his black heart that I too now wish to die. My sons, heirs to Julius Caesar and to Mark Antony, are the only things that prevent me from stabbing myself in the heart. I know that they are resourceful and strong like their fathers, and the gods willing, they will survive.
Octavian has me watched, night and day, and my servants are his employ I know. I held a knife to my breast but it was wrestled away from me, and now I wait in my chamber, bereft and heart broken. I am thirty nine years old, too old to bear more children, and having had the love of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, I want no more advances. I want to die.
I have planned a great death, one which should mystify my captors, for a bite by a deadly snake can be difficult to detect. One of my man servants is dedicated to me, and will do anything for me, and I have requested that he go to the rocky cliffs nearby the town, and catch a deadly asp and bring it to me. He asked me, ‘Oh, my Queen, how will this be done – I cannot bring you a sack containing a viper, as the guards will see it writhe in the cloth. How can I conceal it?’
I responded that he should bring me a basket of figs with the viper hidden amongst the fruit, and he agreed that he would do so. I told Octavian when he made his daily inspection of my quarters that I craved the fruit of the fig which was grown in the orchards near our town, and he smiled and said that I should arrange for someone to bring me a basket full.
When my servant arrives he will not be apprehended, but allowed to bring me the basket immediately. I will wait until he leaves, and then I shall catch the snake and hold it to my breast and allow it to bite me, injecting me with its poisonous venom. I will lay on my golden bed and allow the poison to work its way through my veins, and I will die. I will join Mark Antony and Ra, the sun god, in my eternal life.

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When my servant, the good and loyal young man, bought the basket of figs, I asked him, ‘Is your work complete? Did you find a snake to assist me to the after life?’
‘Oh my Queen’, he sobbed, kneeling at my feet, head bowed, ‘No, I did not. I caught a snake, but on my return it slithered from the basket of figs, which I had picked for you from the town orchard, and slid quickly, like lightning, along the boards of the wagon, and bit the wagon driver, who writhed and died by the road side, and the asp escaped. Forgive me, my queen, I have failed you’.
From this I took courage and heart. The gods did not want me to die at this time. My sons, Julius’ sons, will go to Rome and follow me in ruling there after my death in old age. I am the last pharaoh of Egypt but I will be the first queen of Rome. Long may I reign.

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Now, from my place beside Ra, the Sun God, I look down on this world, which has grown and changed so much since my time upon the bountiful earth. Rockets go to the skies, men converse from country to country by a magical device, instantly communicating with each other. Disease has been eradicated, and my Egypt, which was once the extent of the world, is now a minor power in the whole of this amazing world, but my symbol, the bust which was made of me when I was but nineteen years old, is emblazoned on every coin, postage stamp, diplomatic correspondence and every device, yes, even the machine which allows people to converse instantaneously across the seas. My earthy beauty is still much lauded, but it is my influence, my culture and my wishes that now control the lands. I, Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, still rule.