The Royal Barge bumped against the quay. Lysandra, who had been dozing, grumbled when Jena tapped on the door.
‘Princess, we are here.’
‘Alright, alright. Thank you, Jena.’
Lysandra yawned and stretched. She massaged a muscle in her neck and felt a stab of pain. The beds on the Royal Barge were nothing like her own comfortable bed in the Palace. She pulled out her trunk and placed the legal scrolls she had borrowed from the Palace inside it at the bottom. She called out to Jena for assistance.
Jena came in and rummaged through the trunk. ‘How about this one, Princess? The blue symbolises water and that’s fitting since we have travelled on the Great River.’
‘Jena, you should know blue doesn’t suit me in the daylight.’
‘How about this?’ Jena was holding up a deep maroon dress, inlaid with a lapis lazuli collar.
‘Formal attire only. Jena, I see you still have a lot to learn. Fetch me one of the cotton ones.’
Jena held up a lemon-coloured cotton dress with the falcon motif in dark grey. ‘This one?’
‘That’s more like it.’ She let Jena put it on her. ‘Now hand me the sapphire necklace.’
Lysandra held up her hand mirror and thought she looked like a princess again.
A box clattered to the floor, accompanied by ‘Sorry, Princess.’ Jena had knocked her jewellery box over and was kneeling on the floor retrieving the scattered jewellery.
‘Jena! That will be enough. Attend to yourself. I’ll sort it out myself.’
Jena scurried out of the room holding a cloth to her eyes. Kaylah must have been listening at the door and scolded Jena who ran to her compartment muttering tearful apologies.
‘Too harsh, Kaylah?’ Lysandra offered.
‘She needs to learn. Please come out on deck, Princess. It is wonderful. The city is alive,’ Kaylah grinned.
The port was bustling, far busier than usual. With only two days before the royal wedding, shipping from all over the Mediterranean and the Great River had converged. Sailor’s shouts, hawkers cries and visitors from many nations were speaking over themselves to be heard. Dock workers chanted and swore as cargo was hauled onshore and scribes busied themselves taking inventories. Customs officials were out in force, inspecting the cargo while the local military and a detachment of Roman soldiers kept a wary eye over the port.
Lysandra shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and her attention was drawn to a particularly animated argument between a sea-captain and an official on the dock. The official was speaking in Greek and the sea-captain, swearing loudly in Egyptian, could not make himself understood.
Nuth was on deck in his dark garb, watching the dispute, a deep frown across his forehead. ‘What is this nonsense?’ he growled. He turned to Lysandra and said, ‘Princess, be ready to leave shortly. I have sent messengers ahead to advise Pharaoh of our arrival. The men are preparing the palanquin for you.’
‘I would prefer to walk on such a fine day,’ said Lysandra, feeling she needed to find her land legs.
‘It would not do for a princess to walk with so many common people about. What on earth are those two arguing about? I’ll go down and sort it out. Excuse me, Princess, but please be ready to leave within the hour.’
Lysandra watched Nuth trudge off towards the sea-captain and the official. Nuth could speak Egyptian fluently and a dozen languages besides and soon the sea-captain was turning his wrath on Nuth. As the sea-captain gesticulated in the direction of the Library, a messenger on horseback arrived, dismounted and approached Nuth at a run. He said something to Nuth who looked up at Lysandra and strode back towards the Royal Barge. From the bottom of the gangplank he called out, ‘Princess, I must go urgently to meet with your father and the Thracian ambassador about a matter of protocol. Perhaps you could put your language skills to use and straighten out this sea-captain.’
Nuth mounted the messenger’s horse and headed up the Canopic Way in the direction of the Palace at a gallop.
‘Thank goodness old worry-sandals has gone. I seem to age a year every day I am in his company,’ Lysandra said to Kaylah.
‘True, although you can’t say he doesn’t take his work seriously,’ Kaylah said.
‘I suppose he does. I wonder if he ever laughs.’
Kaylah laughed. ‘I don’t believe it would be possible. Do you know he comes from the provinces? Not too far from my village.’
‘Really? And yet he treats the villagers with such disdain.’
They were distracted by the Egyptian sea-captain directing a particularly colourful curse at the official who was hurrying away towards the Library.
‘I had better intervene. Wish me luck,’ said Lysandra.
She descended the gangplank and hailed the sea-captain in the common tongue. ‘That would be a very hard thing for any man to do, especially with the temperamental camels we have in Alexandria.’
The sea-captain removed his hat and bowed his head. Keeping his eyes fixed on his feet he said, ‘Forgive me Princess, I had no idea you could understand the common tongue. I apologise if I caused you offence.’
‘Providing it wasn’t directed at me there is nothing to apologise for. So why the harsh language?’
‘Princess, the officials here are ignoramuses. They are so caught up in their rules that it is impossible for an honest sea-captain to unload his cargo quickly.’
The man went on to relay a long list of gripes he had with local officials.
‘I see,’ said Lysandra. ‘What happened to the official you were having the dispute with?’
The man raised his eyes. ‘I demanded to talk to his superior.’
‘Which you have every right to do. Oh look, here he comes now.’
The official from before was returning with a man in a purple toga and several scribes, one of them pushing a barrow, from one of the outbuildings of the Library. They had to push their way through the crowds but when she could clearly make out the man in the purple toga she did a double take. It was Marcus.
‘What the hell is going on…’ Marcus stopped mid-sentence. He bowed to Lysandra. ‘Princess, I didn’t realise you would be here.’ His ears had turned a bright shade of pink.
‘Grand Vizier Nuth thought that as I could speak Egyptian I may be able to sort out this misunderstanding. What is the matter?’ said Lysandra.
‘This man is not producing his scrolls to an authorised official of the Great Library. All ships that dock at Alexandria must surrender all the scrolls they have for copying by Library scribes.’
‘Is that so?’ said Lysandra.
‘All ship captains know it. Our friend here is just being difficult because he fears we will delay his departure. Rules are rules.’
Lysandra turned to the sea-captain. ‘You look like an experienced sailor. Surely you understand this requirement?’
The man shrugged his shoulders. ‘Yes, Princess but the official was very rude to me and said I would have to tie up until tomorrow evening. Time on this dock is costing me money. The longer I have to wait the more my profits get eaten up. You must understand that your sister’s wedding is providing a boon for trade. All the families of my crew will be well fed this year provided we can turn around quickly. I needn’t remind you how bad it has been the last few years, Princess.’
The man’s long face and exasperated expression moved Lysandra.
To Marcus, she said, ‘It seems a bit harsh to detain the captain for too long. Surely you could guarantee to return the scrolls earlier? By dawn at least.’
‘Sorry, Princess, that’s out of the question,’ Marcus replied.
Lysandra frowned at Marcus then spoke to the man. ‘Where have you journeyed from captain?’
‘To a number of ports in Greece.’
‘And what texts do you have?’
The sea-captain gripped his hat tightly in his hands. ‘I can’t say I know what they are, Princess. They were being thrown out from a school in Athens.’
A knowing look passed between Lysandra and Marcus. ‘Hmm. Perhaps our Library official could try a little harder to accomodate our intrepid sea-captain after such a perilous journey.’
Marcus scratched his chin. ‘I suppose I could get our best copyists onto it. Alright, it’s agreed. You’ll get the copies back before dawn.’
‘Thank you,’ said the sea-captain, ‘and thank you, Princess. You’ll find them in my cabin at the stern. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to organise the unloading of my ship.’
Marcus smiled at Lysandra and pointed to the ship. ‘Royalty first,’ he said.
* * * *
Inside the cramped cabin, Lysandra’s eyes darted around for the scrolls. There was a small bunk, a rickety table, and a wardrobe. Surely it can’t be too hard to find, she thought.
Marcus stood at the entrance of the cabin watching her search.
‘Copies? Did you tell the captain you would return the copies?’ said Lysandra.
‘Yes, that’s right. The Library keeps all original documents and returns the copies. Don’t worry, they are always easier to read.’
‘Is that so?’
‘It’s been the law for a few hundred years at least.’
‘I never knew that.’ Lysandra went back to her search. The wardrobe was full of mouldy clothes and bits of rope. The smell was so rank she shut the door almost as soon as she opened it. She shifted her gaze to the bunk and noticed a makeshift cupboard underneath. She pulled open a door and a bunch of scrolls fell out.
Lysandra picked up one of the scrolls and unrolled it. ‘By the light of Horus. Look at this,’ she exclaimed.
Marcus stepped forward and leaning over her shoulder, whistled. ‘A medical text! From the School of Hippocrates no less. This is marvellous.’
Lysandra felt like doing a little dance. Here she was holding an original manuscript from one of the great schools of learning. It made her think of her time with The Vultures studying under Europides. Hopefully, after the wedding, she would be able to return to that life. She handed one of the scrolls to Marcus who was grinning like a cat, the dimples softening his serious face. His olive coloured eyes met hers. She felt a sudden shortness of breath and was aware of her skipping heart.
‘Maybe if you stop gawking we can get them to the Library copyists,’ Lysandra said.
‘Er…yes, good idea.’
Lysandra began passing the scrolls to Marcus. When he had an armful he exited the cabin and passed it out to one of his assistants. She fetched more of the scrolls and loaded him up again. Whenever her fingers brushed his muscular forearms she felt a tingle run through her body.
She suddenly couldn’t think of anything to say. The first thing that came to her was ‘What will you do when you finish studying at the Library?’
‘An interesting question, Princess, and something I have been giving a great deal of thought to recently.’
‘Of course, having Europides as a tutor is invaluable, but there’ll come a time when I’ll need to step out of his shadow.’
‘Just like an eclipse. And when would do you think that would be?’ Lysandra asked, anxious of his response.
‘Very soon I should think. Before the year is out.’
Lysandra’s shoulders slumped and she felt as if someone had tipped an amphora of oil over her.
‘Surely you’ll stay in Alexandria?’ she stammered, popping another scroll in his arms.
He paused for a moment before looking into her eyes. ‘No, Princess. It’s always been my goal to go back to Greece and start my own school in either Athens or Sparta. I miss the mountains and rivers of home.’
Lysandra bit her bottom lip and looked down at her sandals. ‘Ah, I see. Athens must be an incredible place. I would dearly love to see it one day. And by the way, I would be happy if you just called me Lysandra,’ she said.
Marcus smiled broadly. ‘Yes, Princess…I mean Lysandra. I’m sure you will visit Athens one day. Don’t forget to call on me if you do.’
Lysandra sighed. The thought that Marcus would not be around much longer had drained her enthusiasm for the task of recovering the scrolls, one of which dropped off the pile and rolled on the floor.
Marcus went down on one knee to pick up the scroll with his free hand.
‘I’ll get that,’ Lysandra said, bending down. She leant in to pick up the scroll just as Marcus did. Their faces were almost touching.
His pale olive eyes searched hers. It made Lysandra’s heart rattle in her chest. She closed her eyes and leant forward, her lips meeting his warmly. She reached up and stroked the side of his face, and kissed him harder still.
‘Ahem…’ said a woman’s voice from behind them.
Marcus dropped the entire bundle of scrolls and they clattered to the floor. He stood up quickly and yelped as he cracked his head on the low beam of ceiling. Lysandra straightened and hurriedly wiped her lips with the back of her hand. She felt her cheeks must be glowing as bright as the the lighthouse on Pharos.
Kaylah stood there at the entrance of the cabin, her mouth gaping wide, gazing from Lysandra to Marcus and back again.
‘Um…hi Kaylah. This is Marcus – Marcus this is Kaylah. Marcus has been providing me with advanced…tuition.’
‘I can see you’re a very willing student,’ Kayla said smiling from ear to ear.
Lysandra tried to compose herself. ‘Kaylah, what’s so important?’
‘I have some news about the oarsman’s uncle, Tefas, the one who worked in the Palace kitchens. He runs an establishment near the red light district.’
‘Good. Tell me more.’
Kaylah provided them with an explanation of where and when they would be able to meet.
Lysandra considered the news for a while. She knew that after the wedding she would be allowed back in the Library and that any misdemeanour might cause her father to change his mind and ban her altogether. But she dearly needed to know what information Tefas might have.
‘Hmm..dusk? That will be a problem, especially as I am due back at the Palace in an hour,’ Lysandra said. ‘Marcus can you meet me near the tamarind tree in the Park of the Scholars just before dusk?’
‘Um.. .yes of course, Princess.’
‘But Princess, your father is expecting you this afternoon,’ Kaylah said.
‘He will be too busy attending to ambassadors and the caterers for the wedding. He won’t have time to actually meet with me until this evening at the earliest. All he needs to know is that I have arrived at the Palace,’ Lysandra replied.
‘But how will you do that?’
Lysandra smiled and placed her hand on and Kaylah’s arm. ‘Kaylah, it’s high time you went for a ride in the palanquin.’