Twelve centuries passed, with much change taking place. Hattu, Mitanni, Babylon, Assyria, Carthage, Darius’s Persian empire, Alexander’s Hellenic empire, and, lastly, Philip of Macedonia were cast in the dustbin. After defeating Gauls, Etruscans, Macedonians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and fellow Latins, Roma, definitely, was centerpiece on the world gameboard, having trumped every opposing player no matter how superior in size and military prowess.
Only one civilization proved more than Roma’s match--despite the nailed Roman boot on their necks, the Greeks proclaimed the glories of their culture, and no thinking, educated person, Greek or Roman, could dispute those glories.
Preeminent in philosophy, arts, sculpture, architecture, sports, and language, she knew her place in the world was a great enduring one, and before her peerless achievements even mighty Roma with all her legions had to bow.
Her professional singing poets and court entertainers of the Greeks, notably the epic poems of Homer the blind poet of Miletos, a mother-city of many other Greek cities, proclaimed to the World and Time that one woman, Helen of Sparta and Ilios, launched a thousand ships she was so fatally attractive in men’s eyes.
By the time the Macedonian dynasty had ruled Mizraim for over two centuries, it would have been thought that the account would have been passed over for newer stories, but this one continued to fascinate the world, and all the poets modeled their own poems after it. Epic after epic was composed and performed, until a series developed called the Homeric Cycle.
All aspects of the titanic conflict between the ancient Greeks, the Achaeans, and the city of Ilios (now called Troas) were covered--at least the poets thought so. By this time they had forgotten certain details, but they all agreed on the main points “Father Homer” had first set forth in his masterpieces, “The Iliad,” and “The Odyssey.” Only the huge 600,000 volume Museum-library at Alexandria, Mizraim, contained accounts as old as Homer’s--which told a somewhat different story.
What had happened to the mysterious Othrysians, their ambassadors?
The lucid Greek mind hated obscure, tangled mysteries and wanted everything set forth in clear and simple terms--so the entire episode was ignored and then forgotten. Homer either never heard of it or thought it worthy of an epic poem.
To the Greeks after him, for whom Homer’s epics constituted a true account of their ancestors, the Othrysians and their embassy never existed. Yet beyond the Greek homelands, but still in the pale of Greek civilization, a few men puttered about the shelves of a great library and came across the old accounts, so the knowledge of the Othrysians and the Terror of the Sky they bequeathed to the Ilians were not entirely lost.
The second point was much more important to the Greeks--the subject of a woman’s beauty.
Court poets singing for their bread and butter have been known to exaggerate feminine charms for the sake of effect, but they were right about Helen, she had been especially beautiful--otherwise Agamemnon’s ploy, using Paris’ abduction of Helen and taking her to Ilios, serving him the pretext for mobilizing the Achaean Confederacy--would not have worked.
Crown prince of a wealthy royal city, Paris had plenty of spending money, it was only an unusually beautiful woman that could have allured him to risk the wrath of Helen’s royal lawful husband, Menelaus high king of Sparta. Knowing full well that seducing and stealing her meant war between his city and at least a furious Menelaus, he still could not resist the bait. We know the rest as the blind poet of Miletos related it.
In a time nearly eight centuries after Homer--a long time in any culture but Mizraim’s or, the far-off India and Ceres, a woman who more than equalled Helen’s beauty with another quality held the throne of ancient Mizraim and its two united kingdoms.
What was her secret? It must be a secret that, like the Houses of Eternity that scholars and archeologists still puzzle over, she took with her to her grave.
The secret-bearing royal daughter of a per-aa was duty bound never to reveal the secret to anyone but her chosen royal mate, who would then rule as the established, legitimate per-aa of Mizraim’s Two Kingdoms.
In the same way this woman held a great state Secret, a Throne-Secret she had found in her personal allure and developed to a fine art. Enthroned on the hearts of powerful men, she reached for the all-conquering, all-ruling scepter that Roman Power wielded.
It eluded her, first with Julius Caesar, by a mere inch or two, and she reached again--and it moved much further, for he was assassinated, and four men took his power in Roma. Of the four she chose the handsome and vigorous to her eyes--Marcus Antonius, who ruled the Eastern provinces of Roma extending to Syria and Arabia.
But his co-rulers in Roma objected to the liaison. While she and Antonius divided the East between them, Roma moved against the pair, and Antonius blundered and met Roma’s combined forces at Actium, a naval battle where he thought he held the advantage in number of ships. But he lacked in one thing--Roman soldiers--and that lack made him pay dearly in his defeat.
Seeing the battle turn against her lover, she left the fleet and returned to her home country to await the changes that must inevitably come--changes that would seek to wrench away her crown and throne. What did she have now to save herself and her kingdom?
“What is her ability or favor from the gods, that she should rule in place of a man?” people had to ask when they first saw her. Was it her learning, reputed to exceed that of most men? Surely, the ibis-god had blessed her with a man's brain in a woman's body
How had this woman kept her power as queen among so many powerful nobles and courtiers as she displayed at court, standing by their hundreds down the long avenue of the palace hall? It was plain to their eyes that the late King Ptolemy IV’s royal daughter possessed no special beauty even at the peak of her youthful years, but she was fascinating in her feminine role.
She had learned from her nursemaid, all native women, how to walk leisurely like a woman should, a manner calculated to draw male eyes.
But since that was something women learned young, what caused her to stand out from them? Richness of garments? No. The nobility and great merchants’ wives and daughters were similarly garbed, and could claim gowns as beautiful as hers.
Her face and bone structure--she was pale in skin and otherwise quite ordinary in her hips and breast, and though she was of medium height, tall for a woman, she stood only the height of a small man.
Perhaps it was an exotic quality of the East, chiefly seen in her eyes.
Slightly crushed and slanted, with more eyelid than Western eyes know, she gazed out at the world, taking its measure as she took the measure of any man to see what purpose he might serve regarding her and her kingdom. Ambassadors and kings, potential and actual lovers, all stared at her without realizing they were awestruck--eternally fascinated like a moth before a flame--that was typically men’s response to her.
What good would it have been to be the most beautiful woman in the world, if she could not, in her position as queen, hold her own with the world of men in trade negotiations and treaty-making?
Added to this talent was another, equally important in her experience.
“I know how to subdue and rule men--they are such vain creatures, these roosters!” she thought, pleased by her ability to outcharm every other female in the world.
Indeed, the vain male nature of any man, she knew, was something easily mastered by a woman knowing what pleased him. But the very great power of state and army a man such as Caesar Octavius held so firmly--how was she to put her hand there on the scepter of Roma and replace his? Perhaps they might hold it together, as almost happened with his predecessor, Julius, or even with Marcus Antonius? No, she decided, Octavius was too satisfied with things as they stood with him in his family, government, and love life.
She was well informed about all such circumstances, and knew that the arts that had served her with Julius and also Marcus would not avail with Octavius. She was, she knew by her own cold examination in the mirror, not young any more. Gorgeous jewels and beautiful gowns and perfume and eye paint and all the rest could do only so much.
Eventually, they would fail to disguise the march of time--as telltale signs around her eyes and on her neck and on the upperside of her hands were all telling her. As long as she kept the lighting just right, and a glow in her eyes and cheeks with wine, she could enchant and trick a man’s eyes for a time--but once the morning light shone on her, or she stepped outside to take a gilded palanquin chair ride, he would see she wasn’t the age she had claimed.
Yet, talented and expert as she was in these areas, Time the robber was trying to take back the gods’ gifts and render her powerless.
“If only my skin were darker!” she had thought a thousand times if once.
If only her skin had been dusky as dates, the honey-brown color of the women of the land, not so Macedonian-pale, the tiny creases and wrinkles would not have shown up--just as her own retired nursemaids’ skins still looked young. And now Marcus had seen her once too often in full light, and he had lost some ardor for her and was taking young, fresh-cheeked concubines--well, he no longer mattered!
“How then am I to master Octavius’s heart and will? If not by love, then by fear?” she wondered. But her army and navy were the inferior of Roma’s. Her fighting men were brave enough, and magnificently equipped, she had a thousand ships she could afford to sink and still raise another fleet, but Roma’s draconian training produced superior strength, and her commanding generals were single-minded trampling the grain like oxen yoked together when it came to Roma’s interests. Octavius and his commanders would never let anything deter them from pursuing her kingdom’s subjugation to the power of Roma.
“I’ve never known this great a problem--it’s my Gordian knot--but what sword will I use to cut it as Alexander once did?”
Thus Octavius posed a difficult case for her largely feminine strategy. She had not yet suffered any defeat, unless the withdrawal from Marcus’s foolish naval contest with Roma at Actium in Grecian waters was her defeat too. Since his return without his fleet and fighting forces, thrown on her resources for any future fleet and army, he had sulked like a vain baby in his quarters in the palace, and she had given word she was ill, and didn’t wish to see anybody--not anybody since she had a more important matter to consider: Octavius.
One day when it was too hot for a formal royal audience of any kind, the queen, a crease showing between her brows, paced the floor of her private chambers, looking out through the wide windows from time to time where a single immense tower, a Wonder of the World, dominated the port and seascape.
Alexandria’s windows faced north and west, and from those directions the invincible fleets of Roma would come, one after the other, drawn by Pharos the world’s highest tower, the lighted top of which provided guidance to ships at sea.
The Romans had crushed Carthago, which her people the Phoenicians called New Town, or Kirjath Hadeshath in their Punic language. She was an city and empire as great as Roma’s and holding more wealth. Her buildings were all like Pharos, it was said, before they were burned to the ground by conquering Scipio of Roma. After Carthago, Roma turned eastward, and crushed the kings of Macedonia, her ancestral homeland.
The nations Roma seized now created an empire approaching her world-conquering ancestor Alexander’s, in size.
“I’ll die with a sword in hand like a common soldier before--”
Her hands clenched on her gown as she walked, nearly ripping a delicate peach-colored silk imported from Ceres worth a thousand times its weight in gold.
Mizraim her kingdom! It was her life!
Mizraim had been glorious beyond any other nation and empire in former days, and she had absorbed that glory, or, rather, she had seen it in the monuments left behind by Mizraim’s ancient per-aas and she aimed to restore it in her reign.
Even Roma had nothing to boast of compared to Mizraim’s Houses of Eternity that stretched like mountains mile upon mile on the western horizon along the great river.
The temples, too, were of a size that dwarfed Rome’s.
Her own royal seat and capital city, Alexandria, founded by her namesake Alexander the Great who conquered the world, was magnificent and beautiful and rich beyond telling, its trade extended to all corners of the earth, with a lighted tower for the safety and guidance of shipping, scratching the heavens with its height.
Sailors at sea could mark the fire on the top burning to guide them from great distances. In the same way her Library shone as a light to all the world, holding the greatest number of books and scholars.
There was no wisdom that the Museum and Library or her learned men did not possess! Then there were the royal palaces her fathers had built on a wind-cooled hill by the water.
Nothing in Roma, which she had seen on her visits with Julius, equalled their tasteful splendor and variety.
One hall of a Roman palace showed you everything you would see in the remainder--it was all mindless gaudiness and clutter and crowds of vulgar, chattering people standing idly about hoping to see somebody important. Ages older than Roma, richer, with unsurpassed vast and noble temples, palaces, and tombs, peerlessly brilliant in the arts of civilization and scholarship, Mizraim possessed glories and greatness that still cast Roma’s in the shade. She was determined she would die rather than submit humbly to an inferior, even if that inferior called itself Rome, the iron-cleated trampler of the world.
“Let them wade through my royal blood to get to my throne--” she thought, her temper turning extravagant and oriental as an Alexandrian’s was apt to do in a crisis. “Let other women scratch their eyes out, but I will--”
Reacting with emotions now, she took a guard’s sword and began to swing at one head of a statue after another--giving Roma’s Caesar Octavius a death-blow each time. She felt better afterwards when she dropped the sword. After all, she had reason for fury. Her capital was overflowing with rumors. Certain rich merchants were saying it was all over, and were sending their ships and gold to foreign ports for safety’s sake.
Nobles with wealth and houses in other countries were abandoning her court and taking trips abroad, waiting to see how she handled the Romans. The market was as busy as ever, but people were hoarding food, wine and water as if for a siege. The crowds in the streets, more excitable than ever, were making it difficult for the civil police to control, and the jails were filling up.
The air was growing strained. Everyone, out of her earshot, was asking, “What will the queen do to preserve the kingdom and to save us from the Roman sack? Will the city be burned and all our goods taken as they have done in past times to Korinthos, Carthago and other queen cities?” Worse was the final question always asked, “What can she do?”
Hopelessness and resignation were setttling upon the people who couldn’t get away. Even her generals were slack-handed when they appeared before her.
“We are ready to meet the foe,” they informed her, but their voices and manner lacked fire and assurance.
“Ready”--what did that mean? She knew they meant they were ready to be defeated and die at the point of Roman swords--that was what they were really saying to her without risking imprudent words.
“But is it hopeless?” she screamed in an obscure desert people’s language to the empty room, where only a few servants were permitted to stand by in the shadows in case they were needed. She could swear in the languages of a dozen nations, and she added epithets that only traders from those lands could appreciate, as she consigned the Romans to the depths of the sea, to the bottom of every snake-filled pit, to the icy regions of the earth where the wind never stopped hurling freezing snow and ice.
She knew her forces were the best that could be in the East. “We have marshalled our navy and the army at the coast and other key points,” she thought. “They shall not walk into my kingdom and submit their demands as if this, my royal domain, were a market shop!”
Her dark, kohl-lined, strangely oriental eyes flashed, and she knew her men would die fighting for her--not turn cowardly like other nations and desert her cause, even when it was seen to be failing and Roma winning. She could count on every soldier to die for her honorably. But that was not enough. She wanted more than honor in death, she wanted victory in life! She wasn’t giving up!
“There has to be a way!” she thought. “What, by the Great Goddess, is it?”
Now Mizraim’s Isis of the Sacred Cow was her imperial cult, and she could see from her palace window the Sacred Island, Antirrhodus, set like a rare white and green jewel gleaming in the green and blue waters of the Great Port.
In shape like a horse’s torso, though legless and headless, on the island stood a summer palace, and the Pharos Fire Tower, and her favorite shrine to the Goddess Isis, a deity who was immensely popular even in Roma due to her lavish parades (many of which the queen had financed), quite an achievement in a capital city which held a thousand competing gods of every nation.
Isis holding the children of men at her breasts--how men of every class loved that image! Given a little more time to grow among the upper classes and the royal family of Caesars, the Isis worship would become Roma’s official state religion, she knew. That was why Octavius, she knew, was so adamantly opposed to her--he knew many in his own court and in his family adhered to the goddess over Roma’s traditional gods.
He felt threatened, and a threatened man in power either strikes or runs. Octavius had chosen to strike. He hated the idea of not only Roma serving her, but even more than that he hated the thought of her worshipping her! Since she was declared Isis’s incarnation on earth, she was, for all purposes, the Goddess in the flesh!
Once while officiating as the Goddess in the Shrine in Antirrhodus, she had turned to her chief priest after intoning: “Isis, the Power in Heaven, She Who Reigns Supreme over men, commands the powers of the elements of air, water, and warmth and cold--come worship at her footstool, O people! Isis, who beckons the wind to help her fly....Isis who talks to animals and they run to do her bidding...Isis...” After the lengthy paean, she asked her chief priest, Hieron the priest of Heliopolis, why she herself should not command the elements, fly, and talk to animals as she had just said the Goddess was capable of doing. Why shouldn’t she, since she was the Goddess incarnated?
Now Hieron had grown a bit pale at this interruption of the divine service, though he was no fool and knew how dangerous it was to displease a sovereign, of any kind but particularly this kind: an absolute ruler, a divinity, and--most dangerous of all--a woman with intelligence and daring.
So he had thought carefully, then replied to the glittering female power on the throne: “Of course, you can do all things, O Goddess and Queen of Heaven and Earth! But the exact sacred spells and divinely-inspired formulae have not been known to us for a long time, and we must make thorough search first in the treasuries and repositories of the gods’ sanctuaries. When that is done and we find them, we will make them known to you, and then you may fly like a fiery star in your wondrous glory over your royal city or--or--”
A most delicious thought had occurred to the queen at that moment, and she finished the sentence. “--even Roma!” Yes, she would show the Romans a much greater power than theirs in her own person! She would do what no Roman, no man on earth however powerful, could do--fly across the heavens in a golden state chariot! Then, when all worshipped her and acknowledged her supremacy, she would sweep aside all other temples and worships, so that she alone ruled in the hearts of men!
“You must find the incantations then! I must show the Romans that we, that I, am absolutely superior in all respects to them. They will not be impressed by anything less than such a demonstation of my divinity and glory! Why shouldn’t I do it? I am a goddess after all--no mere mortal as others are! It is high time I acted like the goddess I truly am! High time!”
It may have been high time, but that command had been given a while back, and still no such records had been found--the priests giving excuses and saying that their forefathers had not done well by the queen, and had concealed the incantations and spells too deeply in the temples’ archives for easy retrieval. It might take considerably more time and search than they had originally hoped!
“But we do not have considerable time!” she had told them hotly. “I must demonstrate my divine power as Incarnation of Isis to the world and to the Romans soon, or armies will come from Roma against us--and then it will be too late!”
She could kill the malingering priests, but what would that accomplish? She would have to start over with others, who might drag their heels even worse! What could she do but wait? It was maddening. Was there some other thing she might do to save her throne and her kingdom?
Known for brilliance in tight spots in the past--when she had been thrust onto the throne by her father’s decree against all precedence (the one female per-aa expunged fromthe records long before the Ptolemies)--and she had to suddenly decide great and weighty matters of state, she turned again to her inner mind, and that mind did not desert her in her urgent need.
The queen paused--her eyes darkened beneath the uraeus-cobra on her forehead and the huge shining carnelian that lay beneath it, then lightened with a sudden flash. “Yes!” she thought, recalling the curious document she had once been shown by a curator in the Museum Library on a visit years before. “I have it! It might work! But there is no time to be lost! He might come before it is finished--then what? No, it must be completed in time. I will see to it!”
She had only seen it because her father, his strength failing from a bleeding growth in his bowels, had worried that she might not be able to hold the kingdom against her foes when the time came, and this, he thought, might afford her the winning edge--a strange thing of possible great power that the scholars had received in times past from ambassadors of an unknown land called Orthys. The Orthysians said, in the document, that this would stop the Romans, when they came east to conquer. Included were drawings and instructions on how to make the device.
Her father, though he did little to administer the kingdom rightly and increase her wealth, other than order one round of extravagant royal parades after another, had, nevertheless, instructed her to never surrender to Roma.
The main street Canopus was lighted at night, four miles of milling crowds of businessmen buying and selling for the world’s consumption. All this would be devoured by Roma, which hated any rival and relentlessly sought its destruction. If she resisted, they would loot and burn Alexandria her signet jewel of a city, and made slaves of her people!
She thought furiously, then went and pulled a long cord of red and black and gold braid, and court women, carefully hand-picked for physical short-coming or some plainness of face to make the queen shine in contrast, were let in by the guards at the door.
Not really seeing them, she allowed them to prepare her for public view. While they were busy she thought through her plans, and knew she had to work very hard, for there was so much to be done.
But if the labor were done by shifts working day and night, it might be ready in time. No fleet, no army, no loveliness of her own would save her and her kingdom from Octavius’s armies, so this had to work--or all was lost!
The queen, her mind made up, followed by court women and officials, hurried out to her private, well-guarded meeting room where she could be heard by only those she wished. Royal Couriers raced from the meeting room. Soon commanders were seen rushing in chariots toward the royal palaces. Somewhat more dignified, leading scholars and philosophers from the Museum and Library, eyes blinking unaccustomed to the full light of outdoors, hastened at her decree to the same meeting.
Since she had declared herself a goddess, proclaiming herself the incarnation of Isis, she had her sacred insignia and sacred crown brought and placed on her before she would see anyone. Things had to be done absolutely perfect, or there would not be the response she wanted, she knew. Let her subjects see that they were defending not just a queen and her throne but the sacred religion of the land--something they gladly die for in defense against the invading Romans.
When, by the way, would the enemy come? No one knew. Octavius held the world’s greatest war machine in his hand, but he was not, like Marcus Antonius, a hasty man. Perhaps, some suggested, he was waiting to see what inventions the queen and her clever Greek engineers would devise against him. He was not, they said who knew him, one to walk unwittingly into a trap.
The windowless private hall done in pale green alabaster with accents of golden Isis images that all looked like the queen set in corner niches had a throne, much smaller than the official one, but a throne, nevertheless, set in a a marble-lined room not more than sixty feet in length and twenty wide. Vented and refreshed constantly, the air was cooled by an ingenious Greek system by which slaves fanned the air by a fanning machine over blocks of ice imported in hide-insulated ships from ice-clad Mt. Juktas in Keftiu.
The same protocol in approaching the goddess-queen was observed in the less gorgeous chamber, which lacked tall lotus-columns, and sheets of gold on the walls, and the silken draperies and all the hundreds of attendants carrying plumes or standing guard in court costume. There was no time to call a proper court anyway, when the Romans were probably sailing for Alexandria to demand the queen’s surrender or they would wage war.
Next came the venerable scholars of great dignity and sometimes very aged, sometimes startlingly young philosophers from the Museum-Library! After hearing the queen’s royal wish, they in turn sent couriers running to the archives to fetch the very books she had demanded to see. “What a memory the queen has!” they marveled to each other. She had recalled certain very obscure works by unknown authors in a time of national danger--and knew the names of the works!
Next came the engineers and skilled architects all looking like sober-faced, methodical, professional scribes! Instructed by the scholars and philosophers with the books in hand, they were told how to begin the vast project. On tables in adjoining rooms, the architects began additional drawings for the laboring overseers. No time was wasted. Lamps burned long into the night and into the morning at the palace. From time to time the queen excused herself from the room, took refreshment, then returned to watch the proceedings.
The “war-campaign room”, for such she had made it, was her royal throneroom for the duration, as it turned out. Abandoning the official throneroom, she kept a close eye in person on everything planned and executed according the Orthysian books. From time to time she went out of the palace to check the actual work in progress at Pharos.
Once she ventured as far as Goshen, going by barge across Lake Maeortis and then by river and canal.
Built well, in many places with the flesh aznd blood of hapless Hebrew laborers who fell crushed between the foundation stones, they performed as they had in ages long gone.
But she didn’t like the black smoke and dust the strong wind kept driving toward her royal pavilion set on her barge--and soon departed after her perfumed clothes and the barge sails began to reek of the foul odors.
As she sailed down a recently restored portion of Joseph’s canal to the sea, to take a shorter, quicker route by royal ship in her return to Alexandria, she thought about the work.
The brickyards had been in full production for some time already. Bricks for the new sea walls protected her capital and the royal palaces, and also provided half-submerged barriers at the mouths of the River, preventing invasion at those points.
But the smelters--they were most vital to her project.
She had to have the finest quality of iron overlaid with orichalc, and then the rest could be made of gold, easily done by her city’s expert goldsmithies. To make the iron, much room and much heat was required, and Goshen with its wide plains afforded the space, only it lacked people for laborers, and so they had to be brought in--slaves, many of them infirm and weak from over-work and abuse, conscripted from all parts of Mizraim from the mines, brickyards, prisons, and quarry pits.
“It’s a pity that we no longer have at hand the more able-bodied Hebrews!” she thought, after looking at the thousands of laborers conscripted from quarries and prison death-camps, many so weak and ill they were staggering under their burdens.
“The per-aa was a stupid one who drove them out by his oppressive laws! As for their god, he could have been added to Mizraim’s without any trouble, just as we add foreign gods now to ours!”
Now the queen, living twelve or fourteen or more centuries after the events, when the temple records regarding the Hebrews had been excised and destroyed so that Joseph’s name, and the name of Jacob his father, and the name of the Most High God they worshipped was forgotten by the Mizraimites--her knowledge of the expelled Hebrews was fragmentary and dim because she leaned more on Mizraimite sources than was good for true understanding.
Therefore, though she was knowledgeable on most Greek subjects and view the current international scene as an expert, she possessed no knowledge either of Joseph’s dramatic life nor the Divine Judgments of the Ten Plagues that including the slaying of Mizraim’s firstborn by the Death Angel nor the miraculous Red Sea Crossing by the People of Israel, though the Jews in her own capital preserved the accounts and could have told her if she had really desired more knowledge. Living largely in the present moment, seeking her own interests, she turned a blind eye toward a past that spoke only to those who sought truth.
Instead of truth, she was concerned with the immediate challenge to her throne posed by Roma--that only. In that regard, Marcus Antonius, the once great Roman who had divided the East with her--he was a profound nuisance and state liability. If only he hadn’t been hanging about her palace, fomenting silly, tasteless assassination attempts and senate coups against Octavius, Octavius might not be so serious about attacking her kingdom.
Would he go to the trouble to dispose Antonius, defeated and lying low like a beaten dog, as he would a chief rival, if Antonius were not constantly reminding him of his wretched existence by commissioning assassins and buying senators over to his cause?
Probably not! Since Actium, all the world could plainly see Antonius was her helpless ward, and was absolutely powerless to determine his fate.
No, it was not revenge upon Antonius that Octavius sought. Would Octavius invest his time and energy on Antonius if he were not more intent on seizing a rar richer prize--that is, Mizraim with its wealth and trade?
Well, the fugitive now being hunted down by Octavius’s forces had taken sick from an overripe melon, and when he recovered he found out how far along she was in the new project, and he was outraged. Flying out of retirement in a half-dressed, he had demanded to take the reins of the armies in hand once again and stop this nonsense she was concocting at Pharos, then flown into a rage when she refused.
“I am a soldier, a veteran!” he had raved to her. “A soldier must fight! I must fight! It is absurd what the silly Greeks have thought up this time. What good will the single “eye of a goddess” do against the legions of my country? The traitors, they have deceived your wits, my queen, to take your riches to themselves when they hand you over to Octavius with simpering bows and girlish smiles!”
As usual with the man when he was in his cups, he had forgotten she too was Greek, or at least a good approximation of one, being Macedonian and ancient Achaean in blood.
She had offered him a most rare wine from Lesbos, and he had drunk the whole flagon worth a thousand gold pieces, right there on the spot. Bit by bit, bottle by bottle, she had maneuvered him out of the scene of activity and back into retirement. “I will call you when the Romans come, Marcus,” she assured him. “No need to be sweating about in hot, heavy armor before they arrive! No, build your manly strength with rest and refreshment, for you will need all your powers when Octavius arrives.”
Grumbling but sinking back on cushions amongst his favorite concubines, Marcus let the matter of the project at Pharos go without further meddling. She left him, after giving strict orders to the chamber eunuchs to keep the general supplied with wine constantly, day and night, as well as fresh, new women if necessary.
Returning to the war-room, she called in the chief officials about the work.
“Will it be ready in time?” she asked them again and again.
“We will do all that the queen commands,” they assured her.
“You must, to save our country, be finished before the enemy fleet arrives!” she told them. “You must!”
Three weeks later, with the taskmasters’ whips clotted with the blood of collapsed slaves, this latter-day Labor of Herakles was at the stage where it could be tested.
Thousands of slaves were worked to death laboring day and night on the plains of Goshen, in the blast furnaces and in the supply of the smelting fires, and the machine had been fashioned.
Her royal treasury of the crown jewels had supplied the single great jewel that was required for the “god’s burning eye.” A ruby of Africa, the size of a man’s head, she had donated to the work.
But this part was only the tip of the machine, she knew. The vast iron under-structure with its precious veneer of rare orichalc was necessary to be installed in the tower beneath the eye, as a shield for the crystal that the Othrysians had left behind in the Museum.
It had been kept in a sealed rock chamber beneath the Sphinx of the House of Eternity of the Per-aa Khufu, and forgotten until the scholars read to her what she needed to provide the source of the Eye’s power.
Only one crystal was required, and the scholars and priests, reverencing the Dead Per-aas and the gods, had carefully buried the shaft to the chamber.
One priest informed the queen afterwards that the female guardian spirit of the chamber, who had appeared in a shining mirror attired like a queen of ancient Mizraim in white linen with gold serpent arm bracelets, questioned him closely on the use to which the crystal was to be put, and then sanctioned the project. The queen was very pleased, hearing that her project had the gods’ full approbation and support.
With no time to waste, the queen went by state palanquin (her royal name emblazoned in gold and jewels in Mizraimite cartouches on the sides of the chair) to the Pharos, and was carried up in a chair to the top by a lift powered by Greek-invented hydraulics and Archimedian pulley systems. Arriving just as slave girls squatting on the floor were brooming away the last bits of litter left by frantic workmen finishing up, in a private room she was attired as the Goddess Isis. Then she stepped out on the viewing platform, which was sheeted in silver and covered in purple silk and streamed with her royal banners. Because this was a sacred shrine to Isis as well as a war-making facility, the rituals of the cult applied strictly to all that was fashioned and all that was done. The priests--their bodies sleek from shaving every hair of their heads and bodies--and government-employed engineers stood by, to start the machine that powered the “Eye of the Goddess,” for she had given it the name of her cult-goddess, Isis.
The queen’s royal fleet was sent out to sea, then ordered by signals of a huge flashing mirror to return to port. They knew nothing of what was going to happen, only that the queen had ordered them back with a lighted signal flashed from the Pharos Tower.
At last, priests with glassed lens to make the distance approach sighted the incoming fleet, which had to be sacrificed to the goddess in order to prove it could be done with an enemy fleet the size of the queen’s.
The deadly Eye of the Goddess was turned toward the exact position by gilded levers and fulcrums.
“It is my Eye, so I will discharge its gaze,” the queen told them, and the priests and engineers, showing protest in their eyes but sudden submission to this divine goddess-queen, stepped back, bowing.
Half-believing in her own self-proclaimed divinity, she never apologized to mortal inferiors, but this time she lowered her slanted eyes, and said, “If my own soldiers must die, then it will be by their queen’s hand whom they love so dearly, not by the hated foreign Roman’s!”
She pulled down the jewel-encrusted lever. Nothing happened for a moment, except that the crystal-dynamo began to hum beneath their feet. Suddenly the huge eye the size of an ox-cart shot forth a ray that traveled swifter than any arrow or missile. It reached the flotilla of gold-prowed, hawk-beaked warships manned by ten thousand armed mariners, transfixing them in the beam. A moment later, there was a bright explosion on the sea, shining brighter than the midday sun, then smoke erupting in clouds that formed pillars on the waters.
The queen’s fascinating eyes closed, and her hands clenched over her breasts.
“Victory for the Queen of Heaven and Earth!” she hissed. “Glorious Victory for Mizraim! Death to the Romans!”
A week later the Romans took the royal city and kingdom of the queen by storm, and found the queen dead by her own hand, bitten by a asp she had pressed to her breast.
Though still holding fiercely to her belief she was the divine incarnation of the Goddess Isis, she relished no thought of being captured and then dragged in a chariot behind the victorious generals of Roma in a triumphal parade. Death by her hand was much to be preferred above such abject disgrace and humiliation!
Giving orders before she took the asp from the basket, she lay on a golden bier shaped like the divine guardian of her throne, the Hawk-God, with his wings stretched as if infolding her body. Even before she died attired in her queenly garments and crown, with full royal insignia in her hands along with her scepter of Isis Queen of Heaven and Earth, her palace servants and guards began fleeing the shrine on Antirrhodus.
Only a few old priests, too old and weary to run, were left when the Romans arrived, and they had embalmed the royal body the best they could with so few hands to help.
The mist was touching the bier of the queen when the sun rose to burn it, and in a moment it vanished. A short time later the Romans jumped from ships and swarmed over the island. They hoped to find a living queen for a parade in Roma, but were disappointed.
Marcus Antonius, too, was dead by his own sword, leaving Octavius supreme ruler as Caesar (the two other rulers with him gone into voluntary retirement), sole master of the civilized world and imperial Roma. What an anti-climax for the generals--they had expected the queen, with Marcus Antonius at her side, to put up much stiffer resistance!
Evidently, the gods had shown them such disfavor, that their hearts has melted, and they no longer could find the will to fight--that was the generals’ thinking. Having seen the Mizraimite fleet destroyed before their eyes by what appeared to be a lightning bolt of reddish color, the Roman fleet had swung far to the side of the burning, sinking ships and landed their armies.
The Eye of the Goddess, by which the queen thought to destroy the Roman invaders in one blast of a killing red ray, proved useless, since it was so designed that it could not be turned far enough to encompass the Romans in the setting the engineers had provided. Eighty degrees had been thought sufficient, but the ever-cautious and prudent Roman admirals and generals, by sailing as far as the coast of the Way of Cyrenicia, had sailed eighty-one.
Touring Pharos, the generals had what project priests, scholars, and engineers they could find dragged to them and made to testify the truth by torture--since torture was the only way to obtain truth from human beings, in their opinion.
“What is this so-called ‘Sacred Eye’ of the goddess doing up here?” they demanded of the doomed men. “Some say this is the Greek trickery that backfired and destroyed your own fleet before our eyes.”
Each man told all that he knew, but the generals were unconvinced now that they had seen it. Nothing of the size they viewed could destroy the entirety of a vast war fleet, they declared. The men were lying in order to impress their captors and gain their lives!
“You are fools!” one dared to protest to the leading general, Publilius Fabio. “It destroyed our fleet as a test in order to prove to the queen that it could destroy a like number of ships, and it surely would have destroyed yours too, except that you sailed beyond its range. We erred only in that we failed to calculate that you might sail as far around as--”
Not believing a word, angered by the man’s impudence, the generals gave a sign, and the engineer was given the sword-thrust that put his already tortured limbs out of misery. But another engineer, seeing that all was lost anyway, was just as bold.
“He is right! With this Eye of Death and the ray that issues from the secret stone of the ancients you can easily master the whole world as far as Ceres, subjecting even the barbarians! We fashioned the divine Eye according to the ancients’ wisdom! Why must you treat us so roughly? Spare our lives and we will devise ways for you to carry it along with your armies everywhere you decide to go, and nothing beneath heaven can withstand you--nothing! You will be as the gods in your power and might!”
“Every commander knows that an army travels upon its belly, not its eye!” Publilius Fabo laughed, and the second engineer was also put to death on the spot.
“He was lying like a Greek,” the generals agreed. “It was the lightning bolt of our Father of the gods, great Jupiter, that smote the queen’s fleet.”
Giving orders for the Greek invention to be broken up and cast into the sea, with the gold and jewels stripped away to line the pockets of the generals, the victors departed Pharos.
But they did not leave the building before a Mizraimite priest, a soothsayer of some renown in Memphis, ventured to interrupt their journey as one before him once sought to interupt Julius Caesar’s with a warning concerning his going out in public on the Ides of March.
The soothsayer intended to flatter the new rulers with an old oracle of his religion that could be thought to be favorable, but instead came strange, unbidden words that astonished his own ears, though peace has been much on his mind of late, so much so he had inscribed the sign on a sacred tablet. Clutching the sacred sign, he cried out, unable to hold the words back:
With no patience for pratting fools who impeded their way, an official attending the generals took care of the matter while the generals continued on to the royal pier to take ship to the mainland.
A moment later the soothsayer’s head fell, cleft by a Roman sword--the Roman way of dealing with even the suggestion to challenge the invincible march of Roma’s legions across the world!
Yet even a Roman sword cannot solve everything. As the man's body fell lifeless, his hand let go something he was clutching, and a soldier went to pick it up, thinking it was a gold or silver coin intended as a bribe, and found only a hieroglyphic sign inscribed on a tiny tablet. Called to interpret it by the solder's superior officer, he could not. A native priest was summoned. Bowing, glancing toward the headless body of the soothsayer, he trembled and turned ashen beneath his dark skin.
"It signifies peace, great and noble Sire," the priest said. "Nothing more."
"Peace?" the officer scoffed. "Why, that old fool of a soothsayer was just maundering about the peace he claimed a god would bring, but we Romans have brought real, lasting, eternal peace by the force of our invincible arms! Give me that sign!"
"Pax is Roman, not something this defeated god of yours will ever bring about!" he thundered. He seized the hieroglyphic and flung it away, and it flew through the air and vanished, glinting in the sun.