Copyright ? 2009 by Jo Wyrick
copyright ? 2010 by Jo WyrickExcerpt from Stealing Fire
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Contents Copyright Page Amenti A City by the Sea Companion’s oath In the House of Pharaoh Cats and Snakes The Hands of Isis Amenti The Flute Player’s Twilight Flawed Alabaster The Wolf’s Heirs Debts The Mirror of Isis Lord of The Black Land The Gates of Amenti Coming Forth By Day Amenti The Wind of The World Son of Venus Fire Promises And Dreams The Venus Throw Isis Enthroned Rome Europa ET In Arcadia Ego Ties of Flesh He Lives And Reigns THe Ides of March Amenti The Moon Veiled The Progress of Dionysos The Successors In The City of Isis Moon and Sun Shades of Love The Parting of The Waters Lords of the East Amenti Antonius’ Gamble The Inimitables
A Company Passing Invisible
People, Places, And Things
For Further Reading
meet the author
reading group guide
The Magician’s Apprentice
Once, in a palace by the sea, there were three sisters born in the same year.
The eldest was born in the season of planting, when the waters of the Nile had receded oncemore and the land lay rich and fertile, warm and muddy, and waiting for the sun to quickeneverything to life. She was born in one of the small rooms behind the Court of Birds, and hermother was a servingwoman who cooked and cleaned, but who one day had caught Ptolemy Auletes’eye. Her skin was honey, her eyes dark as the rich floodwaters. Her name was Iras.
The second sister was born under the clear stars of winter, while the land greened and grainripened in the fields, when fig and peach trees nodded laden in the starry night. She was bornin a great bedchamber with wide windows open to the sea, and five Greek physicians inattendance, for she was the daughter of Ptolemy Auletes’ queen, and her name was Cleopatra.
The youngest sister was born as the earth died, as the stubble of the harvest withered in thefields beneath the scorching sun. She was born beside the fountain in the Court of Birds,because her mother was a blond slave girl from Thrace, and that was where her pains took her.Water fell from the sky and misted her upturned face. Her hair was the color of tarnishedbronze, and her eyes were blue as the endless Egyptian sky. Her name was Charmian.
Once, in a palace by the sea, there were three sisters. All of the stories begin so.
by Jo Graham
Hand of Isis
The city of Alexandria is teacher, apex of Panhellenism And in all fields of knowledge and all the arts the wisest. —The Glory of the Ptolemies, C.P. Cavafy, translated by Aliki Barnstone
In twilight I approached the doors, and in twilight they stood open for me. I was notsurprised. I knew that I was dead.
I walked through the doors and through the hall beyond, pillars thick as the tallest treescarved round with symbols in red and gold, with stories of those who had walked this waybefore. Above the high capitals ornamented like lotus blossoms was not the star-painted ceilingone might expect, but the wide expanse of the night sky, blue-black and deep as eternity. Istood in the Halls of Amenti, the Uttermost West, and the sun did not come here. I walked in
Light glimmered at the end of the long hall. I walked among the pillars, my feet soundless onthe stone floor. Shades make no noise, even in their sorrowing.
At last I came to the end of the hall, where the veil stretched between two pillars, and beforeit on a dais sat the thrones.
Serapis wore a robe of white. His gray hair was cut short and His eyes were as dark as the sky,an old man but hale, with a black hound sitting alert at His feet. Beside Him, Isis glimmeredlike the moon. Her gown was white as well, but Her dark hair was covered by a black veil, andbeneath it Her face was pale and beautiful.
“Welcome to the Halls of Amenti, daughter,” She said.
I knelt. “Gracious Ones,” I said. To the side I saw the scales, Ma’at with a feather in Herhand, the golden balance waiting.
“You know what must be,” He said, seeing where my gaze went.
I nodded, and moistened my lips. My heart should be measured against a feather to see whetherthe deeds of my life condemned or released me. I knew the formulas. Every child learns them.“Hear, Gracious Ones, how I have not offended. I have not done wrong. I have not robbed. Ihave not slain men. I have not spoken lies. I have not defrauded the gods. . . .”
Isis raised Her hand, and it seemed for a moment that there was amusement in Her voice. “WellWe can believe that you have memorized all of the words, Charmian. But when you stand beforethe Thrones of Amenti, it is not enough to have learned the words that should rest by your sideon a sacred scroll. Your heart must be weighed on its own merits. You must be judged by yourown deeds.”
I looked at Ma’at, where She stood beside the scales with justice in Her hands, and I knew howheavy my heart must be. “Then condemn me now, Gracious Lady. I shall offer no defense.” Ifelt the tears pricking behind my eyes, and all of the sorrow of these last days came rushingback. “I have no defense to offer, and readily accept whatever punishment you shall name.”
“It is not that simple,” Serapis said. “We are just, and do not condemn out of hand.”
“Surely if the prisoner will offer no defense, the judge must convict,” I said, and heardmyself choke. Whatever should happen would be no greater than this pain that already was.
Her voice was calm. “In a human court, perhaps. But We are in no hurry. We shall wait for yourtestimony as long as it takes.”
I bent my head and the tears overflowed my eyes. “I can give no defense, for I have failed inmy charge. I have failed, and through my weakness have destroyed all those I love. I can makeno excuses, now or ever.”
Serapis put His hands together, like a philosopher in disputation. “I think perhaps youoverestimate your own culpability. But We shall see, when your testimony is complete.”
“I cannot do that, Gracious Lord,” I said, and I could not even see His face through mytears, my hands pressed against the stone floor. “I beg You to condemn me. There is no
punishment You could devise worse than what already is.”
“We will wait,” She said. “In time you will be ready to speak to Us.”
I pressed my forehead to the floor, my hands in fists.
Above my head, I heard Him speak. “And yet while you are here, time runs true. Even the godsmay not stop time. In the world, days and nights are passing.”
“And what is that to me?” I asked bitterly. “There are none I love who still walk beneaththe sun and moon.”
“I do not think that is true,” Isis said quietly. “Are there not those you love who have notyet crossed Death’s threshold? In the world that is, time is passing for them, and thingshappen that cannot be amended.”
“And what may I amend, dead as I am?” I asked. “There is nothing I can do for them, and Youcannot persuade me that I am not really dead.”
“No,” She said. “You are dead. Even now your mummy lies in your tomb, preserved by theembalmer’s art. Your life as Charmian has ended, and never again in that mask shall you walkunder the sun. And yet your spirit endures.”
“I should rather that it did not,” I said. “When I have lost all, and when I can do nothingfor those I have failed.”
“You do not have the choice of that,” Serapis said. I looked up at Him, and there wassomething in His face both familiar and serene, though a line of worry creased between Hisbrows. “Your spirit is old, and you have endured much worse. But time runs true beneath thesun, and ships ply the seas homeward bound under the stars of heaven.”
Ships . . . There had been something about ships, something in that last day . . . “Thechildren,” I whispered. “Oh, Gracious Lord, the children . . .”
“Even now they sail,” Serapis said. “Horus and his brother, and the moon their sister. Evennow, they are bound for Rome. And you sit here lamenting.”
I knelt upon my knees, swaying before Their thrones. “Are You saying there is something I mayyet do? Gracious Ones, if there is anything I may do at any cost . . .”
“There may be,” She said. “But firstly your heart must be judged. You have come before theThrones of Amenti, and what must be, must be. Speak true, and recall to yourself all that youhave been, that We might test the weight of it.”
“Then I shall begin, Gracious Lady,” I said. And I stood up.
A City by the Sea
My mother was a Thracian slave girl who died when I was born, so I do not remember her.Doubtless I would have died too, as unwanted children will, had Iras’ mother not intervened.Asetnefer was from Elephantine, where the Nile comes out of Nubia at the great gorges, andenters Egypt. Her own daughter was five months old when I was born, and she took me to herbreast beside Iras, a pale scrap of a newborn beside my foster sister. She had attended at thebirth, and took it hard when my mother died.
I do not know if they were exactly friends. I heard it said later that Pharaoh had often calledfor them together, liking the contrast between them, the beauty of my mother’s golden hairagainst Asetnefer’s ebony skin. Perhaps it was true, and perhaps not. Not every story told atcourt is true.
Whatever her reasons, Asetnefer nursed me as though I were a second child of her own, and sheis the mother I remember, and Iras my twin. She had borne a son some years before Iras, but hehad drowned when he was three years old, before my sister and I were born. It is this tragedythat colored our young lives more than anything else, I believe, though we did not mourn forhim, having never known him. Asetnefer was careful with us. We should not play out of sight ofpeople; we should not stray from her while she worked. She carried us both, one on each hip ina sling of cloth, Iras to the left and me to the right, until we grew too heavy and had to goon our feet like big children. She was freeborn, and there was doubtless some story of how shehad come to be a slave in Alexandria by the sea, but I in my innocence never asked what it was.
And so the first thing I remember is this, the courtyards of the great palace at Alexandria,the slave quarters and the kitchens, the harbor and the market, and the Court of Birds where Iwas born. In the palace, as in all civilized places, the language of choice was Koine Greek,which educated people speak from one end of the world to the other, but in the slave quartersthey spoke Egyptian. My eyes were the color of lapis, and my hair might glow bronze in the sun,but the amulet I wore about my neck was not that of Artemis, but a blue faience cat of Bastet.
In truth, that was not odd. There were golden-haired slaves from Epirus and the Black Sea,sharp Numidians and Sardinians, men from Greece fallen on hard times, mercenaries from Parthiaand Italy. All the world met in Alexandria, and every language that is spoken was heard in herstreets and in her slave quarters. A quarter of the people of the city were Jews, and it wassaid that there were more Jews in Alexandria than in Jerusalem. They had their ownneighborhood, with shops and theaters and their own temples, but one could not even count theJews who studied at the Museum and Library, or who taught there. A man might have a Greek nameand blond hair, and yet keep the Jewish sabbath if it suited him. So it was of littleimportance that I looked Greek and acted Egyptian.
Iras, on the other hand, looked as Egyptian as possible and had the mind of a skepticphilosopher. From her earliest days she never ceased asking why. Why does the sea pile againstthe harbor mole? Why do the stars shine? What keeps us from flying off the ground? Her blackhair lay smooth in the heavy braids that mine always escaped, and her skin was honey to mymilk. We were as alike as night and day, parts of one thing, sides of the same coin.
The seas pile against the harbor mole because Isis set them to, and the stars are the distantfires of people camping in the sky. We could not fly because like young birds we had notlearned yet, and when we did we should put off our bodies and our winged souls should cavortthrough the air, chasing and playing like swifts. The world was enchantment, and there shouldbe no end to its magic, just as there was no end to the things that might hold Iras’curiosity. And that is who we were when we first met the Princess Cleopatra.
Knowing all that she became, it is often assumed that at that age she must have been willfuland imperious. Nothing is further from the truth. To begin with, she was the fifth child and