Excerpt from Song of the Nile

June 15, 2011


They were all waiting for me. At the edges of the vast peristyle garden, guests found their seats beneath the columned porticos. In the torchlight, the emperor’s family gathered—the Julii and all their numerous friends and clients. Sitting apart was the emperor’s wife and her family; as a Claudian, Livia descended from a nearly unbroken line of power-hungry maniacs and criminals, but in Rome, their pedigree made them untouchable. The smell of their old aristocracy wafted on the air, just over the scent of burning torches.

I watched from beneath an archway as senators fiddled impatiently with their purple-bordered togas and ladies delighted in the confections served by passing slaves. The emperor’s daughter arrived late, accompanied by her new husband. Julia’s recent wedding had been a hurried affair, as if to prevent Livia’s jealous interference. In fact, Julia’s wedding had been nothing like this one. Her father hadn’t even been present, but Augustus was here now, waiting for me.

My family was also waiting. The Ptolemies. Julius Caesar. My mother. My father. My butchered brothers and the only brother that still remained with me, my little Philadelphus, my mother’s youngest son. The only one missing was the one I needed most. My twin wasn’t here except insofar as he lingered in the prophesy of our shared birth. The Isis worshippers and others believed we’d bring about a Golden Age. All those hopes and dreams and expectations hovered in that courtyard. I had only to appear on the stage that the emperor had given me.

The moon that was my namesake hung in the sky like a pale ghost, its face only half-revealed, like mine. I stepped out and everyone turned to see. I stretched my hands to the sides, like the paintings of my winged goddess on Egyptian tombs. They’d all expected that I’d go meekly to this wedding, shy as a slave on the block. They expected a bride in white muslin and orange veil. Some of the guests may have even supposed I’d marry in a Greek chiton with a royal purple cloak over my shoulders. None of them expected me to cast aside the respectable garments of a Roman bride in favor of a scandalous gown, a painted face and hair flowing over my shoulders in dark ringlets.

The guests tittered. Some stood. Others sat down abruptly on couches. Two servants knelt in homage to me while a lute player missed his note. Then the musicians went quiet altogether. I knew the memories I conjured with my mother’s coiled serpent upon my bare arm, the malachite on my eyelids glittering like a Pharaoh’s mask, my ruby red lips and firm breasts swaying beneath the gathered green folds my thin gown. If my display wasn’t so deadly earnest, I might’ve laughed at the way women clutched at their modest garments, all scandalized by Cleopatra’s daughter. My groom was scandalized too. The newly-made King of Mauretania waited for me beneath the grape arbor, an angry expression upon his handsome face.

But my eyes were for Augustus who was bedecked for this occasion in the corona civica, his oak-leaf crown. He’d been sipping at wine and chatting with his advisor, Maecenas, but stopped mid-conversation when the crowd opened a path between us. The emperor saw me and his eyes narrowed. Then he stilled.

In all the years since my mother’s death, I’d been raised never to address a crowd of my own accord. Never to speak unless spoken to. Never to shout or lift my immodest eyes. To remember always that I was the daughter of the whore who’d plunged Rome into civil war, and that it was only by the grace of Augustus that I lived. But I knew the emperor loved a good show and I intended to give him one. With my arms still upraised, I proclaimed, “I am the eighth Cleopatra of the royal house of Ptolemy!”

The emperor handed his wine to Maecenas so abruptly that some of it sloshed out of the goblet. This brought an uncomfortable sputter from the wedding guests. Only Lady Octavia dared to speak. “Selene!” She thought I mocked her with this display. That I meant to spit upon all the modest virtues she’d taught me. She started towards me but the emperor lifted two fingers to stop her. This and the evening wind at my back emboldened me. “I am Cleopatra Selene, Queen of Cyrenaica,” I continued. It was a title without power, for Cyrenaica was governed by Romans, but at the sufferance of the emperor, it was the only royal title I retained as my own. “I am Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Isis and therefore, Thea Notera, the Younger Goddess, the Maiden Goddess.”

The emperor’s jaw tightened. He didn’t like that title, Thea Notera; he didn’t like my mention of Isis, his least favorite goddess. My mother’s goddess. His praetorians tensed as if readying for battle and the lictors who accompanied him on formal occasions, stiffened. Their axes were ceremonial, but I knew their blades could cut. Somehow, I found the courage to press on. “I am Cleopatra Selene, Thea Philadelphoi, the Goddess Who Loves Her Brothers.”

The emperor’s nose lifted as if to scent treachery in the air. I could see the way his mind was turning, trying to divine whether or not I would declare myself the rightful Queen of Egypt and my twin Egypt’s rightful King. Augustus could have me killed with a mere signal to his henchmen. With a simple flick of his wrist. Still, he let me come. I drew closer, my eyes never leaving his. “I am Cleopatra Selene, Thea Philopatris, the Goddess Who Loves Her People.”

It had been one of my mother’s appellations and a few of the guests jeered, which shook me. This same citizenry that had come to celebrate my wedding had bayed for my blood when I’d been dragged through the city as a child, so my fears raced alongside my heartbeat. Some faces in the crowd were awed. Others were hostile and whispered of my arrogance. I passed my brother Philadelphus, on my right. After my marriage, he would remain here in Rome to secure my good behavior. Already pale from a recent illness, he went paler at my bold display. The emperor’s daughter glanced up at me and twitched, like a frightened fawn ready to bolt for the woods. My Roman half-sisters, the Antonias, cloistered around her, both of them agape. And the emperor’s wife looked as if she saw in me an apparition.

At last, I found myself standing before Augustus. He knew not what I meant to do, but seemed mesmerized by the possibilities. I confess I enjoyed his discomfort. If I named myself the Queen of Egypt, everyone would know it for the truth, but it would also mean my end. I was so close to him, as close to him as I’d been the day of his triumph, when he held my chin between his thumb and forefinger and decided to spare my life. I lifted that same chin and said, “As I come to this marriage to the King of Mauretania, I remain a Friend and Ally of the Roman people, loving and loyal ward of Augustus, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Divi Filius, Son of his Father, Julius Caesar, the God.”

Then I lowered my head, bowing as a suppliant before him. The crowd roared its approval. They cheered, stomped their feet, and whistled. They sounded like the mobs in the stadium instead of an assemblage of wedding guests. I’d done all this to stroke the emperor’s vanity, to honor my mother’s legacy, and to speak the name of my goddess even where it was forbidden. But in so doing, I gave the emperor a gift he could have received from no one but me. I’d taken unto myself all the prestige of my lineage and laid it at his feet, giving him more power than he possessed before, letting him glimpse the glory that only I could bestow upon him.

28 Responses to Excerpt from Song of the Nile

  • Great teaser! I can hardly wait to read more!

  • I’m salivating! Wow. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better! Sigh!!!

  • Awesome sneak peek! I can’t wait for the book to come out!

  • Sounds great! I love how Selene got away with so much yet with her last words prevented Augustus from doing anything about it. I’m really looking forward to this book.

    • This is actually the second half of the first chapter, so there’s a bit more build up, but I think it’s good to use as preview of the intensity that’s coming 😉

  • OMG that teaser was so amazing , i mean there were so many nail biting moments!!!! I can tell the book is going to be fantastic , I cant wait for it to come out!!!! 😀

  • I just now finished “inhaling” Lily of the Nile (for “reading” it doesn’t quite seem to do it justice), and all I can say is…wow. What a fascinating, gripping read. I must admit though, I had no clue that it was the first installment of a trilogy, so when I reached the end of the novel, I just about threw it across the room because I so badly wanted MORE. Thankfully I read your author’s note at the end, and gave a huge sigh of happiness when I realized that more was coming. Now, after reading this excerpt, I can not WAIT for Song of the Nile! I’m off to pre-order it right now. Thanks for your dedication to the writing profession, Stephanie! I am so excited to have discovered a new favorite.

    • This is, of course, music to my ears. Thank you so much for letting me know your thoughts on Lily of the Nile. (Did you have a favorite character or scene?) You might also want to join my very infrequent newsletter so that I can keep you up to date on the next books, news about the world of Cleopatra Selene and other special features. I often give books and other goodies along to readers to show my appreciation.

  • Are there any plans to release another excerpt before the book comes out?

    Sencerily , Hopeful 🙂

    • I chose a different excerpt than the one that is likely to be available in the near future from the publisher so that my readers could get two sneak peeks. I’ll keep you posted! (Also, I received your envelope and some goodies should be on their way shortly.)

  • So you asked me about my favorite character or scene…you’re in for it now, Mrs. Dray. 😉 My favorite character (besides Selene) has to be the emperor. Many authors opt for the cookie-cutter antagonist that is clearly “bad” and unlikable. But the emperor’s character doesn’t come close to fitting into that category. Octavian is so complex that I found myself actually liking him in a strange sort of way, or at the minimum, feeling perplexed by him. He’s power-hungry and ruthless, yet has some potent weaknesses, which is something that many readers can identify with. I have to say though, as far as minor characters, I just adored Julia. Her progressive thinking reminds me a lot of Selene, but she’s more playful and comfortable in her own skin (of course, it’s easier to be comfy in your own skin when painful images aren’t being carved into your flesh). She’s more like modern teenagers today, with her girly whims and desires.

    As far as a favorite scene, there were SO many that I loved! But one that particularly stands out for me is the interaction between Selene and the emperor when he first sees with his own eyes the hieroglyphics appear on her arms. You can just feel the dynamic of the story change here as the emperor dares to imagine that Cleopatra, his obsession, might somehow be living through Selene.

    Sorry, for the long-windededness, but you DID ask. LOL. Can you tell that I love this novel? Oh and yes, I would love to receive your very infrequent newsletter. *chuckle* I’ll go sign up for it now.

    • Jodi, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      I think I wrote Octavian that way because I have such mixed feelings about him myself. He was a ruthless ogre, but he also accomplished a great deal. He was very crafty and occasionally showed an outburst of mercy or magnanimity. I wanted to show both sides of him in this series. He is the villain, but Selene can never fully hate him, no matter how much she wants to.

      Julia, of course, is a character that I would love to write a series about. Her life is so colorful and tragic. I’ve probably ruined any chances I have of writing about her, however, by including her as a character in these books, but I’m so glad you love her as much as I did.

      As for your favorite scenes, they’re my favorites too.

      And please never worry about long-windedness when praising an author’s work. It’s what we live for 😉

  • Did the people who could afford it go on honeymoons after their weddings in Selene’s time or is that something more modern?

    Sincerely, Curious

    • Iyana, I’m not certain when the custom of honeymooning began but certainly the noble class in Selene’s time would have been able to afford it. Some might compare Cleopatra’s leisurely trip down the Nile with Caesar to a honeymoon…

  • I read Lily of the Nile and i loved it! it was amazing! To be honest, i have never been interested in cleopatra’s daughter. Now i found your book and i cant wait to get my hands on Song of the Nile!
    -Alejandra N.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Alejandra! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Song of the Nile. Perhaps you can leave a few words of review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you talk about books!

  • Dear Mrs. Dray,
    I just finished Song of the Nile and i loved it i will love to read more from you. You are very talented I read Hunger Games and i thought it could not get better. But you have proven me wrong. May I ask you something, Do you love history? And do you love all the worlds different cultures?

    • Hi Caitlyn, thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words. I also loved the Hunger Games, so I consider this high praise. I love history and different world cultures, so I try to bring them to life in my work. At the moment, I’m working on the third and final book in Cleopatra Selene’s story and I hope you’ll sign up for my newsletter so that I can email you when it comes out!

  • Stephanie,

    I just read the excerpt of your book and now I can’t wait to read more of it. I just wish I had the first book and this one so I wasn’t so far behind. I read the book Cleopatra’s Daughter and loved the way Selene defied everything put in front of her by Octavian (Augustus). He tried so hard to make sure she never felt the need to return to Egypt, but she never gave up hope, not even when her twin, Alexander Helios was murdered. I’ve always had a love for the history about Ancient Egypt & Rome and all the kingdoms they conquered. When I read the “Afterwards” in Cleopatra’s Daughter I was so happy that Selene had the courage to rebuild Alexandria in her new kingdom. I also read your article on whether or not the marriage of Cleopatra Selene and Juba II was a love match. I believe it was, but that there were some difficulties along the way such as the lack of children, the separate currencies, and that the rulers may have had different homes in different parts of the kingdom of Mauretania. I hope I can eventually get my hands on all of your books on the orphaned princess of Egypt and how she survived those long years in Rome without her parents and eventually without her twin brother, the one who was closest to her heart.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. Be aware that Michelle Moran has a different take on Selene’s story than I do, but we are treading over the same ground and reach similar conclusions about many things.

  • Wow. Even thoughim young, I’ve always loved history, especially Egypt and Cleopatra so this excerpt was just amazing. Loved it! 🙂