The Nuptial

By S. Mack

There was so much blood. It gushed through their fingers no matter how much pressure they applied, spreading across Antony's tunic like the Nile engulfed the fields every winter.

"An angel," he gasped, "An angel, a goddess… they told me you were dead."

She pressed a kiss to his forehead, sobbing. "No—no, I'm not dead yet. I'm sorry, Antony, I'm so sorry—the Romans had to believe I was dead, it had to be realistic, but it was never supposed to turn out like this." His eyes were distant, and she pressed a wet cloth to his forehead. "Stay with me," she whispered. "Please, Antony, I need you. Your children need you. Our children need you. Stay with us, Antony, please."

"It never turns out the way it is supposed to," he mumbled, eyes fluttering shut. "Never meant to fall in love with my mistress, queen though she may be—divorced Octavia, though I don't regret it… never meant to… to…"

She panicked as he trailed off. "Antony!" she cried, fresh tears falling from her eyes. "Antony—no, no, no! You can't die!"

With obvious effort, he forced his eyes back open. "The children are not here, are they?"

"No," she answered. Her eyes closed and she sent a brief prayer of thanks to the goddess Isis before reopening them. "But they are safe. I sent them away, into hiding." She looked him over, resolved not to cry again. But his cheeks were too pale from the blood he'd lost. "You always were too good of a soldier for your own good," she told him. "I should have stolen your damned sword and hidden it away."

"Ah, but then the Romans would have gotten us," he said wisely, and smiled. The bleeding had nearly stopped.

"The Romans have gotten us anyway," she said quietly. "Octavian and Agrippa… but you already knew that, didn't you?"

His eyes began sliding shut again, and she bent over him, one hand grasping his hand and the other cupping his cheek. "I did," he said, "Octavian always was a sneaky, clever bastard."

"You have always been fairly sneaky as well," she reminded him, and he smiled. His free hand came up to hers, which still rested on his cheek.

"I love you, Cleopatra Ptolemy, do you know that?"

Her eyes softened, and she smiled. "I do."