She returned her attention to the court; all of them, even the few Egyptians among them, dressed in Greek chlamys, loose-fitting gowns fitted at the shoulder with a gold clasp; only the chief priests of Isis and Serapis with their shaved heads and white linen robes did not follow the custom. Further away, clustered in knots around the Great Hall of Pillars were her officers from her Household Guard, a few Gauls and Germans of the Roman contingent and a handful of wealthy Syrians, Jews and Egyptians. Immensely tall Nubians from her private bodyguard, naked and gleaming, were posted around the perimeter of the court, clutching ceremonial spears.
All of them waited to see what she would do. Her first big test.
The formalities were dispensed with. Pothinus was eager to be down to business. "We must move quickly to arrange your marriage to your brother, Ptolemy," he said. "It will allay the fears of the population. And we must have an orderly succession so that we do not arouse the interest of the Romans."
"You think the succession has not been orderly, Brother?" she said, using the honorific that was his due his lofty position at court.
"Indeed it has, Majesty. I merely point out the wishes of the people. It is imperative you uphold the tradition without delay."
The tradition; the pharoanic practice that had been adopted by the Ptolemies of royal brother marrying royal sister, a sop to the priests and the fellahin - the masses. Her father had married his own sister and Cleopatra's two older sisters, now dead, had issued from that union. Such barbarity was supposed to ensure the purity of the royal line. But this was not the Council's purpose here today. What they wanted to do was emasculate the new queen.
"When our father became ill," she began, the royal prerogative of speech sitting uncomfortably with her, " he arranged for our coronation as his co-regent to ensure an orderly line of succession. In our view the wishes of the people and the needs of state have already been served."
The smile did not leave Pothinus' face. "You do not intend to rule without a king, surely?"
"Ptolemy is not a foreign prince come courting. You are not hoping for issue from our loins, are you Brother?"
Even Ptolemy blanched at this. She felt a little better for having asserted herself.
"Pothinus said I should be king," Ptolemy blurted out.
Did he, indeed? "You are still a boy," she snapped at him. "That is why these men have appointed themselves your Council."
He scowled, his eyes on the floor.
The argument went back and forth, couched in the polite language of the court. She had no intention of giving ground and they could not force her to do so, outside of outright rebellion. They would not risk that with the Romans waiting any opportunity to intervene.
"It was your father's wish," Theodotus was saying.
She smiled to cover her anger, something her father had taught her to do. "He did not express such a wish to us." It is your wish, Theodotus, she thought. If I were to marry Ptolemy, I would become his queen and subordinate to him, and therefore subordinate to you and the rest of the Regency Council. Do you think me just a green girl you can bully into giving up the power to which I was born?
"Surely your accession was but a temporary measure?" Theodotus said.
"Do you presume to question your queen?"
To her relief, Theodotus subsided like the lamb he was, head bobbing.
A long silence followed, as she stared them down; all but Pothinus, who glared back at her from beneath heavy-lidded eyes.
It was Hephaestion who broke the tension. "There is another matter," he said.
She felt herself relax. To her own astonishment she had won this first encounter.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish