Chilled silence fills the air as I sit in front of my mirror, gently brushing my hair. My maidservants are washing my linens at the moment; I do not mind being left alone every once in a while. For a princess of Egypt, getting some time to myself is quite rare.
A fleeting rap on my door, however, soon interrupts my quiet. "Berenice! Berenice, it is I, Cleopatra. May I come in?"
"Of course, sister," I reply, forcing my body to turn and face her as she enters. "What news do you bring?"
"It is Father!" she squeals, gleefully. "He has just sent word, that he will be returning this day from his journey to Rome."
"That is wonderful," I utter with less enthusiasm as I turn back to face the mirror and brush my soft brown hair.
I know why little ten-year-old Cleopatra is so excited about our father's return. Of all his daughters, he adores her the most and we are all well aware of that fact, especially my older sister, Tryphaena. I can understand why father favors her so. Cleopatra has always shown herself to be exceptionally bright for her age. I myself do try to read with the same diligence Cleopatra displays, but I find it difficult to keep focus and absorb the information as she does.
"You look so beautiful." Cleopatra walked next to me, flipping strands of her loose brunette curls in front of her shoulder and gazed at her own reflection. "Do you think I will ever be as pretty as you?"
I gently lifted her up and put her in my lap. "You are beautiful, Cleopatra."
She sighs. "Not the way you are. I hear how men talk of you. They whisper of their secret desires to have your hand in marriage. I never hear anyone talk of our eldest sister, Tryphaena. It is always you."
I could not help but chuckle. "Well, marrying Tryphaena would be like crawling into bed with poisonous snakes."
Little Cleopatra giggles at my remark. "That is likely true. Since she will be the next queen everyone knows she will have to marry one of our brothers." She pauses, stroking her hair and looking down before asking, "When Tryphaena becomes queen, will we be safe?"
I hold my little sister tighter and reply, truthfully, "I suppose, so long as we do not cross her."
Cleopatra and I make our way to the main throne room to welcome the return of our father, the Pharaoh. We both dress our best in our shimmering pearl gowns and golden jewelry, though I am wearing more jewels than she. Cleopatra never cared much for excessive jewelry, saying they irritate her skin. I, on the other hand, enjoy experimenting with different jewels to see how they complement my flesh tones.
As we wait, I notice Cleopatra and I are the only two of Pharaoh's children present. Both of my brothers are too young, but my sisters should be here.
"Cleopatra," I ask, "where are Tryphaena and Arsinoe? Should they not be here for our father's return?"
She only shrugs. "Perhaps they have yet to hear word of his arrival."
I then realize had Cleopatra not come to tell me in person of our father's return, I would not even know. It seems Father only made the effort to ensure his third daughter got the news.
I turn my head and look down at her. "Cleopatra, will you go retrieve our sisters? They should be present for the Pharaoh's return."
"Yes, sister." She nods and skips off to seek them.
I wait, standing to the right of the throne, until I hear the deafining applauds from outside. He is close. Once the palace doors open, everyone including me, falls to their knees to honor Pharaoh as the god he is.
As the applause ceases and silence fills the room, I hear the sound of footsteps thumping more loudly. In just moments, my father's feet appear in the part of the floor I had my eyes fixated on.
"Berenice," he says, smoothly, holding his hand towards me.
I take it, and he pulls me up into an embrace. "Welcome home, Father."
"It is good to be back," he says, as he releases me, his eyes gazing behind me as though he were looking for something. "Now, should I not have more gorgeous daughters awaiting me? If I recall correctly, there were four of you last time I was here."
I laugh. "They will be here in short time. Word of your return has not yet reached either Tryphaena or Arsinoe, so Cleopatra…"
My words became interrupted as Father's golden eyes lit up. I turn and see Cleopatra has brought Arsinoe. Father immediately rushes over to his third child, lifts her in the air and swings her about as she giggles. This leads to applause by everyone in the room. He sets her down and barely acknowledges Arsinoe's presence, instead turning back to me.
"It seems I am still missing a daughter, Berenice," he says to me, rubbing his hand against his smooth hairless head. "Where is my eldest?"
I shrug and look to Cleopatra, who was supposed to retrieve her. When father, too, turns back to her, she answers, "I tried to look for Tryphaena but could not find her."
Father's frown does deepen, but other than that does not appear too troubled. Just moments later, Tryphaena appears by the same side entrance Cleopatra entered with Arsinoe. The whole room grows silent at her presence. To me, the most distinct feature of my elder sister is her eyes, her icy piercing eyes. Sometimes when she looks at me sharply, my body instinctively shudders. Tryphaena walks towards father, her elegant curls partly pulled back into a bun, and she kneels before him.
"Welcome home, Father," she says, coolly, yet with charm at the same time. "Forgive my tardiness."
"Of course, my dear. It is good to see you again, Tryphaena." I hear more force in his voice with her. Still, just as he did with me, he pulls her up into an embrace and even kisses her cheek.
Father motions for all of us to stand by him as he himself moves in front of the throne, still on his feet, and announces with both hands up. "People of Egypt, my family!"
Everyone applauds, looking up to us as though we are supposed to be the model happy family. I look over to one sister, who secretly despises father and wishes him overthrown, and then to the other, who father openly shows favor to. I think to myself, we are anything but a 'model family.'