What If Cleopatra Faked Her Death? Excerpt

The Pharaoh and the Librarian is a work of fiction. Alternative fiction. “What if” fiction. Everyone thinks they know the historic Cleopatra. They’ve seen the movies, read the books, and heard of her in history classes, yet much is based on writings of Roman historians.

Cleo grew up privileged, had her food tasted, participated in grand processions, and worked hard to achieve an excellent education. She studied long hours and learned languages, public speaking, and the arts of diplomacy.

She ascended the throne at 18 and received the serpent crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. She married her two half-brothers and (probably) killed them. Cleo VI, one of her sisters, vanished. And then came the Romans: Julius and Marc. She made herself into the goddess Isis and hoped her people forgot she was Greek. She died (according to Roman reports) in 30 BCE at the age of 39. Supposedly, she was buried with Marc Antony. Although reports suggested their tomb was to be found in a temple to Osiris, west of Alexandria, this tomb has never been found.

No Tomb! What if…

I took what we know of Cleo and imagined a woman used to power. A woman who was strong enough to challenge the Roman Empire, did not fear war, and became the greatest female ruler in history. I saw her as addicted to power: proud, over-confident, demanding, materialistic, and sometimes a comic character.

Excerpt – Cleo – Alexandria, Egypt

Cleo’s kohl-shaded eyes flashed with impatience. Marc Antony was in another of his depressed moods. He looked not at all like the bold legionnaire who’d conquered lands and promised her an empire.

Marc groaned, upended his wine glass, and slumped back into that pose that so infuriated her, elbows braced against her table, hands supporting his un-shaven chin. She poked his shoulder with one red-tinted fingernail. His cleft chin slid off his palm and his head hit the table nose first. He grumbled, “Bring me more wine.”

“Now is no time for drink.” She herself desperately wished for a pitcher of the fermented grape juice to transform her world into blissful oblivion. “We must make a plan.” Cleo pushed aside her drinking cup encrusted with the amethysts many believed prevented intoxication. She knew better.

Marc groaned. “All is lost. Octavian’s army is to the east. And Cornelius Gallus on the western border.” He raised up. “Wait! We can escape to India.”

Cleo shook her head. Marc made no sense. She’d have to devise her own plan.

He slumped, then rose again. “I thought you loaded your ships onto rollers to sail them across the desert.” He waved his arms, pointing east, then west.

“Octavian’s allies burned my ships.” She rolled her eyes. He was useless.

“What about our families?” He scratched his cheek. “Certainly they will help. My sweet daughter Fulvia Antonius loves me.” His face softened into a dreamy grin. “She favors me so.”

“Fulvia is but sixteen. An ambitious girl who fancies herself more legionnaire than Roman maiden. Remember, her mother died bereft at losing you.” In Rome Cleo had seen the hatred in that daughter’s yellow eyes. “She would as leave slay me and carry you back to Rome. Once you mentioned an ancient Roman ancestor on her mother’s side. Perhaps Fulvia has inherited werewolf talents? Some Roman families trace their lineage back to the pups of Romulus.”

He shook off her words with a head shake strong enough to bounce his curls.

Cleo hated it when Marc fell back into Roman thinking, unable to speak badly of noble families. “Your Roman families are allied with Octavian. My incestuous family would rather kill each other than battle other enemies.” Except Alex. Kind, gentle Alexandria would never harm a soul.

“Your sister Alexandria! Of course. We could hide out in her library until we obtain a ship to take us to some sumptuous port.”

“I will not involve Alex in this mess. I haven’t seen her since she and I last visited the Sphinx. My beloved librarian sister will never leave the safety of her library. She’s shy. The world has forgotten she’s a Ptolemy. I refuse to endanger her life.”

“We could flee and find a villa in Greece or a house along the Nile. Just live quietly.”

Cleo’s kohled eyes looked to the ceiling. “You are such a dreamer. It’s too late for that.”

“The only answer for a noble Roman is to fall on his sword.” Marc stumbled to his feet, shouted, “Where’s my sword?” then crumpled onto an ebony chair.

Cleo shook her head at his snoring form. Useless. “Like Julius? He fell on someone else’s sword. Fifteen times.”

Why couldn’t her life be like that last trip with Alex to the Blue Lotus Oasis? She remembered that perfect day. Before she stepped from the chariot into their purple silk tent servants had cleared the area of snakes. As the sun slid below the desert horizon, the sisters bathed in a sun-warmed pool, sipped wine and feasted on dates and figs steeped in cinnamon honey. She plucked ten of the blue lotus blossoms, each the size of her palm, and tossed the mauve flowers to a servant, with an order to boil them into a strong tea. Cleo denied she craved the flower’s power. She claimed only to enjoy their relaxing euphoria. But right now she would give a kingdom for the strong lotus tea to take her to oblivion.

Distracted from her musing by the waft of sweet perfume, she looked up. A tall, graceful form stood in the doorway, elegant as any noble woman—if a noble woman wore the head of a cat. Alert ears, broad smooth nose, gentle eyes with long alluring lashes, and a face overlaid with golden fur.

“Bastet, whatever are you doing here? You’ve certainly not come to catch mice or cobras.”

The goddess’s golden cat eyes flashed. “You have neglected my temple, so I came to you.”

“I have no time to worship at every temple in Alexandria. Haven’t you heard I may lose my kingdom?”

“The streets are filled with talk of nothing else.” Bastet’s fingers stroked her wide gold and lapis collar.

“Then leave me alone.”

“I am the daughter of Isis and Ra, sister to Apollo,” the cat goddess purred. “I protect women and children.”

“Have you come to protect me and my children? You owe me that.”

Bastet’s velvet cheeks sagged and her eyes narrowed. “I brought you love, fertility, and joy for many years. You were never grateful. Your children now face danger beyond my powers. I am no longer the great lion goddess of Lower Egypt.”

Cleo snapped back, “I attended all your feasts of drunkenness. I purchased prodigious amounts of wine to honor you. Now Romans prepare to crush me. You must save me.”

“You angered Rome by taking their men and flaunting your kingdom’s riches. Now they want all you have. No one stands with you. All have deserted you.”

Sometimes Cleo hated these insolent Egyptian gods. “My sister…”

“Your sister is safe. That is all I came to tell you. Now I travel out of Alexandria with my dear Anubis. We will stay with Sebek and Tuareret in their river palace until Egypt is at peace again.”

As Bastet turned and stalked out of the chamber, Cleo called after the cat, “You go with the dog to play with the crocodile and hippo? You have all deserted me.” Her gaze returned to the sleeping Marc. She had an escape plan up her imperial sleeve.

##################

What if Cleopatra faked her death and escaped on a pirate ship? While her sister sailed for Wales with the most valuable ancient books from her Library of Alexandria? And they both landed in an imagined new world filled with crypto-creatures and historical humans?

Trekking the desert of 1st century New Mexico, Cleo from the Yucatan and Alex from Nova Scotia, they’d need bravery and help from friends and lovers to evade inner demons and determined villains across an uncharted wilderness.

Amber Polo, constantly asking “What if…?” has a hard time writing in one genre at a time. Best known for The Shapeshifters’ Library series which asked what if librarian dog-shifters faced book-burning werewolves, she shares her love of libraries and fascination with creatures and places, real and not-so-real in The Pharaoh and the Librarianwww.amberpolo.com

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Chupacabra: Creatures of “The Pharaoh & the Librarian”

The Pharaoh and the Librarian is a work of fiction. Alternative fiction. “What if” fiction. Most of the places Alex and Cleo visit are real – or what they might have been if I’d been there to do feet-on-the-ground research. Therefore, settings are as real as my imagination can make them. And the creatures they encounter are cryptids, as real as they may have been.

Writers are told that their creatures must be realistic or at least plausible. Even fantasy writers can’t just throw monsters into a story willy-nilly. So, what about cryptids, a class of monsters balanced between the real and imaginary, like the famous trio: Bigfoot, Yeti, and Nessie.

 

Most cryptids are ancient, yet the Chupacabra is claimed to be a recent crypto-creature. In 1995 Madelyne Tolentino, who lived in a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, spotted an alien-like figure in her yard. Two days later other Puerto Ricans discovered eight dead sheep drained of blood each with three puncture wounds in the chest. Later, as many as 150 dead farm animals and pets were reported. Some claimed American exploitation, secret US scientific experiments near the rainforest. Resulted in the chupacabra.

Most sightings have been in Mexico, the US Southwest, and China. In 2006 Russia reported 32 turkeys and 30 sheep killed and drained. At least twice a mysterious kangaroo-like creature with a crocodile head attacked humans but caused no serious damage. Most U.S. reports turned out to be dogs and coyotes with demodectic or sarcoptic mange. So far DNA tests of bodies have revealed animals to be coyotes, dogs, or raccoons, one fish and a gray fox.

Reptile, Kangaroo, or Mangy Dog?

The most common description is that of a reptile-like creature with leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back that stands 3-4 feet high and hops like a kangaroo. Other descriptions liken it to a strange breed of wild dog, mostly hairless, with a spinal ridge, pronounced eye sockets, fangs, and claws. Some say it has basilisk-like eyes capable of paralyzing its prey. Others report bat-like wings, red eyes, and a forked tongue. It’s said to drain all of an animal’s blood (and sometimes its organs) through three holes in the shape of an upside-down triangle.

With little fur, thickened skin, and a rank odor, perhaps these sickened predators attacked easy livestock prey. One report claimed the creature left a vanishing line of footprints as if it took off like a bird. Another that it occasionally assorted its victim’s bodies aesthetically my color and size, or built pyramids of bodies. Anther purposed that stray Less exotic, was a claim that Mexican hairless dogs were mistaken for chupacabras.

The First Internet Monster

One investigator claimed the chupacabra is the first “internet monster” because the first sighting went viral. Others speculated that the creature had similarities to a beast in the 1995 movie “Species” partly filmed in Puerto Rico.

Chupacabra may be related to Central American aboriginal myths of a mosquito-man who sucks blood from animals through his long nose. In “The Pharaoh and the Librarian,” I made my chupacabra more like that of the Central American folktale creature that may have (and still may) inhabit the jungles of the Yucatan.

Sample Chapters


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Journey of “The Pharaoh & the Librarian” Creatures: Unicorn Rescue Sanctuaries

The Pharaoh and the Librarian is a work of fiction. Alternative fiction. “What if” fiction. Most of the places Alex and Cleo visit are real – or what they might have been if I’d been there to do feet-on-the-ground research. Therefore, settings are as real as my imagination can make them. And the creatures they encounter are cryptids, as real as they may have been.

Writers are told that their creatures must be realistic or at least plausible. Even fantasy writers can’t just throw monsters into a story willy-nilly. So, what about cryptids, a class of monsters balanced between the real and imaginary, like the famous trio: Bigfoot, Yeti, and Nessie, and, of course, unicorns.

On Anglesey Island I imagined a unicorn sanctuary that helped support the Druid library. By bringing in unicorns and a Pegasus foal from early animal protection patrons, the Druid librarians are rescuing them from danger and extinction. Sadly, it didn’t appear to work. Unless there still is a hidden unicorn sanctuary remaining somewhere, safe from the media attention.

Many Greek writers mentioned unicorns in their natural histories as real – not at all mythological. Maybe at that time they were? In European tales often describe a white horse-like  or goat-like animal with a horn and cloven hooves. Sometimes a goat’s beard or lion’s tail.

Unicorns have one large spiral horn projecting from their forehead  These horns were believed to have magical properties; the power to heal, detect poison, and turn poisoned water potable.

Over time, unicorns have become symbols of purity and grace, who could only be captured by virgins, as shown in The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries in the Cloisters.

  • Unicorns symbolize chaste love and faithful marriage and prefer death to capture and have been associated with the Virgin Mary.
  • Marco Polo described unicorns as “scarcely smaller than elephants,” probably referring to the one-horned rhinoceros “wallowing in mud and slime.”
  • In Shakespeare’s play “Timon of Athens,” a hunter could goad a unicorn to embed its horn into a tree.
  • Unicorns are the symbol of Scotland in heraldry.

These depictions could describe a single-horned goat, horned cattle, or a one horned oryx (antelope). A two-horned creature seen from the side or with one horn broken could be viewed as one horned. Another explanation could be a genetic disorder creating a one-horned creature. Below are unicorn photos by Larry Kane. See more of his amazing animal photography at larrykanephotography.com.

The Druid Sanctuary in The Pharaoh and the Librarian was also home to a foal, sired by Pegasus, who showed his father’s birdlike wings and aviation abilities.

If unicorns and flying horses were ever real, the need for preserves to protect these extraordinary creatures from extinction was sorely needed. I’d like to believe there were kind people who tried.

In writing The Pharaoh and the Librarian, I supposed many cryptids still lived in the 1st century in both the Old World and the New, when folklore and history were not so far apart. Technically, the creatures that wander through my novel are not fantasy beings but cryptids who may have lived at one time and may or may not have survived to live in ours.

In fiction creatures still hide within vast forests, dark jungles, and deep oceans.

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Journey of “The Pharaoh & the Librarian” Creatures: Cryptids and Cryptozoology

The Pharaoh and the Librarian is a work of fiction. Alternative fiction. “What if” fiction. Most of the places Alex and Cleo visit are real – or what they might have been if I’d been there to do feet-on-the-ground research. Therefore, settings are as real as my imagination can make them. And the creatures they encounter are crypids, as real as they may have been.

Writers are told that their creatures must be realistic or at least plausible. Even fantasy writers can’t just throw monsters into a story willy-nilly. So, what about cryptids, a class of monsters balanced between the real and imaginary, like the famous trio: Bigfoot, Yeti, and Nessie.

Nessie

Bernard Heuvelmans claimed his co-author (On the Track of Unknown Animals, 1955) Ivan T. Sanderson, a Scottish zoologist, first coined the term cryptozoology. Supposedly, the term sounded more scientific than monster hunter. “Crypto” means a thing having the quality of being hidden or unknown. The OED defines a cryptid as “an animal whose existence or survival to the present is disputed or unsubstantiated; any animal of interest to a cryptozooologist.” Others more bold call cryptozooology a pseudo-science, similar to a belief in the monsters found in folklore and old wives’ tales.

Monsters fascinate us. From childhood we read tales featuring mean monsters and gentle monsters. We love dragons and werewolves and mythological creatures like minotaurs, satyrs, and giants. What’s more fun than a chimera, with the head and front of a lion, the back legs of a goat, and a snake’s head for a tail or a jackalope, a jackrabbit with the antlers of a deer? We love King Kong, the shark in The Deep, the centaurs in The Chronicles of Narnia, and the creatures in Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest.

What draws us to these creatures? Are they just real enough? Perhaps they represent secrets hidden from society.

Bigfoot

 

Modern cryptozoologists use motion sensitive cameras and night vision equipment and reject the notion that the world is completely mapped and explored. Others keep alive a sense of wonder that mystery animals and fabulous beasts exist. Their opponents focus on revealing fake taxidermy hoaxes and trick photography.

Reported Bigfoot sightings

In writing The Pharaoh and the Librarian, I supposed many cryptids still lived in the 1st century in both the Old World and the New, when folklore and history were not so far apart. Technically, the creatures that wander through my novel are not fantasy beings but crypids who may have lived at one time and may or may not have survived to live in ours.

In fiction creatures still hide within vast forests, dark jungles, and deep oceans.

Buy the Book on Amazon