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Favorite Part of Hand of Isis

It's very easy to pick my favorite scene in Hand of Isis -- it's the one that was written first! Nearly a decade ago now my friend Tanja Kinkel gave me a writing prompt, "Gaius Julius Caesar." This is the scene I wrote for her, only edited a bit as it went into the book, and it was the first one I wrote with Charmian. I think it captures something essential about both Charmian and Caesar -- Charmian's loyalty and her willingness to gamble, her faith in what she knows bone-deep. Caesar's the enigma. He gives very little away in this scene. What does he want? Does he remember? If so, how much? Charmian doesn't know and like the reader can only guess.

This scene is a very close parallel to one in The General's Mistress. These are clearly the same people still having the same conversation, though nearly two thousand years separate them, and who is calling to whom has flipped. I wrote the conversation in The General's Mistress first, however, though to the reader the one in Hand of Isis is three and a half years earlier! However, when I wrote this scene I knew what the scene in The General's Mistress was because I'd already done it. I can't wait for you guys to see the parallel scene!



This villa, like so many, was built to catch the sea breezes. In better times, doubtless it was a lovely place to set out couches and little tables, and dine in the sea air, with the soft scents of the garden below. There were no couches or tables now, only a sentry at each end of the building, the cressets unlit, as they would interfere with their night vision over the shaded garden. Still, the waning moon was bright enough that it hardly mattered.

I walked out to the rail and took a deep breath, clear and cool, like drinking moonlight.

I was not alone. His hair was a loose cap of silver, and he stood by the rail as well, some little way away, looking out over the garden. From the other side of the villa we should have been able to see Pharos and the sea, but this side looked the other way, toward the Mareotic Canal with its long lines of barges, bringing the grain of the Black Land endlessly to the sea. It was Caesar.

“Who’s there?” he said sharply, one hand dropping to his waist, to a dagger I did not see. Romans have assassins too.

I stepped out into the bright moonlight, my open hands held well away from my sides. “It is only I, Imperator.” My white veil shone in the darkness. No assassin would wear such.

His hand stilled. “You are one of her handmaidens,” he said. “I’ve seen you. Charmian, is it?”

“It is,” I said, inclining my head. I wished he did not know my name. It was better to be anonymous, a shadow behind Cleopatra. But then, Caesar noticed such things. "I did not mean to disturb you." I looked away. "It's only that it's so close in the villa, and I felt if I did not get some air I should scream."

"That would hardly do," he said with a strange half smile, the left side of his mouth pulling more than the right. "I expect it would alarm people."

"It would," I said.

He lifted my chin with one hand. “You have the look of her." His hand was warm, and he turned my face as though it were some work of art.

“Ptolemy Auletes was eclectic in his tastes,” I said. "We were born the same year."

“Her sister as well as her servant? Interesting.” The Roman raised one eyebrow. “You are loyal to her, then?”

“Would I tell you, Imperator, if I were not?” I asked. “Surely you cannot expect naiveté from someone who serves Cleopatra Philopater? If we were any of us naïve we should be long since dead.” His face was very near mine, and the moonlight made each wrinkle a deep gravure, but his eyes were bright as stars, light reflecting. It seemed that I had dreamed this once, or perhaps that I dreamed still, sleeping beside Cleopatra and wondering how I should speak with Caesar. It was that sense of dream that made me bold. "She is the Living Isis, Her hands on earth. You must put her on the throne of Egypt. It is what she was born to do."

"No doubt it's what she wishes," Caesar said dryly, releasing my chin with the same unminding caress one would use for a cat. "Your mistress has many estimable qualities."

"Does she fascinate you, Imperator?" I asked.

“As she means to?” He turned, one eyebrow rising again. “You can tell her yes, of course she does.” He looked out over the garden. Somewhere out there in the night the river was flowing beneath the stars, the Nile rolling ever seaward, as it always had and always would. I said nothing, just waited for him to drink his fill of the night. “The pyramids are two thousand years old,” he said. “So they tell me. How old are your gods?”

"Do you care for gods, Imperator? I didn’t think Romans put much stock in such.” Certainly Gnaeus had not, and I had not known so many others closely. They seemed a supremely practical people.

“I am a priest of Jupiter,” he said lightly. “Or had you forgotten?”

“I did not know,” I said. “Perhaps there is some small flaw in our intelligence.” I came and stood beside him at the rail, looked sideways at his face. “Do you believe in pothos, like Alexander? Fata, leading you by the hand?”

“It’s a foolish man who scorns Fata,” he said. “I don’t think even my enemies have called me foolish.”

“No,” I said. “That’s not the thing they’ve named you.” Rebel, traitor, tyrant, a man with no regard for law, a man who would be king -- all those things had been said and more. But no man had called him foolish, at least not in a very long time. But what did he believe? If any man knew that, they did not speak of it.

Caesar looked vaguely amused. “And does Cleopatra wish a second Alexander to swoop down upon her enemies like a plunging falcon? To raise new temples in her honor? A royal wedding and a Caesarid dynasty?”

“You have named it, not I,” I said, but a shiver ran down my back.

He laughed, a pleasant enough sound. “She wishes to know these things. Why does she send you to ask me?”

I must gamble. The stakes were too high not to. “Because you will tell me,” I said, certainty in my voice.

“And why will I do that?”

“Because you have known me for a thousand years. I have died in your service. I have saved your life when your enemies sought you, and I have killed a man across your funeral bier.” I held his eyes. “We carried you to Memphis in a coffin of gold and laid you among the sacred kings, beside the bulls of Serapis until your city was ready. You may not remember, waking, this side of the River, but I think that you do know. I think you know much more than you pretend.”

Caesar tilted his head to the side, his face unreadable. “Strange,” he said quietly. “You look Greek, with your fair hair."

"I am all Egypt," I said. "Egypt as she is now, Black Land and Red Land and City together. You have come home to your place, Imperator, and she greets you as a lover long absent and much missed. Do not scorn Fata, or the words of the gods."

“Now you are the voice of a goddess, not a slave?”

“We are all more than we seem, Divine Julius, the Son of Venus,” I said. “Are you not descended from Venus, through that Trojan tossed over sea and land by the enmity of Juno, until at last he came to Italian shores and took up his long destiny?"

He threw his head back and laughed, long thin throat exposed. “I should take this then as a caution against sparring with Cleopatra. If the handmaiden is so practiced in arms, I should beware your mistress!"

I inclined my head. “Perhaps you should. But you have not answered my question.”

“Nor will I now,” he said, and smiling walked away.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
not_from_stars
Jan. 30th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
That is definitely one of my favorite scenes in the book!

I really cannot wait to read The General's Mistress. :)
jo_graham
Jan. 31st, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
I love that scene so much!

In The General's Mistress, Elza is acting with a troupe that's following the Army of Italy and they're asked to put on a performance for the officers. The manager writes a very complimentary prologue for her to deliver, in which she is to represent Fame Which Bestows Thanks Upon Laurel'd Heads. To the First Consul.
tricksterquinn
Jan. 30th, 2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
I do love this scene!
jo_graham
Jan. 31st, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you! So do I!
geonncannon
Feb. 1st, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
I'm ignoring the post because I don't want to be spoiled, but it's relevant to the entry...

Last night after reading Hand of Isis (which I'm LOVING, BTW... I liked Black Ships enough to put it on my Top Ten Favorite Books in 2011, but this book is beyond even that), I had a dream of a mashup with my original series "Underdogs." I dreamt that someone brought a canidae (werewolf) to Charmian and Iras when they were still girls and they had to get bitten so they could become canidae to better protect Cleopatra. It was insanely detailed.

Just thought I would share that your story had crossed over into my subconscious and things are getting blended. ;-D
jo_graham
Feb. 2nd, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
*g* That's so fun. They crossover so well.

It would be really easy, too, to crossover The General's Mistress and the Napoleonic canidae. In fact, hard not to in my head! BTW, what are you doing with that story? It's so good.
geonncannon
Feb. 2nd, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
I'd like to imagine canidae being recruited to protect Cleopatra. I got to the part where Iras was established as Anubis and it felt like you were doing the hard work for me. ;-D

The stories are leading into a novel, which is being prepared right now! Hopefully it will be out very soon. ~fingers crossed~ Mainly because I'm getting tired of writing Ari and Dale pre-romance (they get together in the novel ;-D)
jo_graham
Feb. 4th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
*g* That sounds like so much fun! And I can't wait to read the novel.
geonncannon
Feb. 4th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
"Set sent Death to Him in the form of a snake, a cobra that would sneak into the little prince's bedroom and bite Him. But the prince had a loyal dog who slept every night in His room."

I laughed out loud when I got to that. It's almost like you WANT an Underdogs crossover. ;-D

And I got to the scene from this post! A while ago, actually. ;-D
jo_graham
Feb. 11th, 2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
Yep! :)
linneasr
Feb. 6th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting scene; I wasn't aware that you had written it such a long time ago. I like Charmian in it, and it's true to her character as you've written it in the rest of the book. However, I find it almost too sharp, to close to the bone, because Charmian is rarely that aggressive again (at least, I don't remember her to be). In terms of her relationship within the Hands, she's definitely present, strongly supportive and independent - a cat - and yet, with respect to non-Hand characters, I don't find her that pushy. Again, more like a cat, in that she's attentive, she's a hunter - but she's not in your face, like a dog. Or like Iras.

And, having written that all out, I find that her encounter with Ceasar is harmonious, after all -- she's very confident in the night, she's able to show her claws with these questions, and she can play with the answers. Thanks for bringing the scene forward again!
jo_graham
Feb. 11th, 2012 12:41 pm (UTC)
It's true that she's rarely that aggressive again -- in some ways it's more like she is later. Gull can be almost passive, and Charmian is more forward. But it's Elza who's much more in your face. A long evolution.
hiveshipmist
Mar. 28th, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC)
I didn’t see a reaction post for Hand of Isis, so I write my thoughts here.

There were themes of black and white (light and dark) and also square shapes like boxes and tiles. These constructs, while giving order and classification, can be constraining if no other choices are considered. Examples in her world were male/female, servants/royalty, and Egyptian/Roman. As Charmian grows and resolves to be like a cat, she seems to take less notice of constraints and sees more options available to her. This applies to her having more freedom, wealth, and responsibility as a slave to Cleopatra compared to a Roman matron and her having a nontraditional family with Emrys and Dion. In the end, the soul is not bound by these constructs after the masks are left behind.

The story ended tragically, but way you set up the plot structure was well-suited for it. The reader knows Charmian is dead from the onset, as she is in Amenti, and the reader keeps getting reminders of this every so often. The last chapter was also a useful addition, to give the readers some cheer in knowing she lives on and got to see Sigismund with his dream wife and dream business.

Ravens will be my next book and I look forward to seeing how you write short stories, having read so many of your full-length novels.
jo_graham
Apr. 2nd, 2013 12:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for taking the time to write me!

Oh yes, squares of light and dark, the order of the world.... But as we see with Charmian in Amenti, the boxes and classifications are masks -- real, but not complete. Charmian is who this soul is at the moment, but Charmian is not the sum total of who she is.

Sigismund is the one who lives happily, Sigismund and Dion, though Dion has known terrible loss. But he does go on, being a father to Demetria, rebuilding the world. (There is a story with Dion later in The Ravens of Falkenau, Dion Ex Machina.)

Thursday and Friday we're going a giveaway of Ravens on Amazon, so you can pick it up free then! :)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )