Beckett was in Alexandria, Egypt. He'd come to see the legend Cleopatra.
Many of the books he'd read and youtube videos Beckett had seen were sparse on details. However, Caesar's meeting with the Queen of Egypt had gained a lot of attention from historians and online documentaries.
Beckett now made his ways through the streets of Alexandria. Beckett felt more relaxed moving through these streets. All of his previous visits to the past he'd been in open fields or near small villages. Now he was in a large city. He moved through the central market. He heard some Latin, although it had a different accent. He heard other people speaking different languages. Beckett had done his research. He knew the people were speaking a number of languages: Arabic, Greek, and Egyptian, to name a few.
Beckett used the information he'd found online and in his books to approximate the time of Caesar's visit to Alexandria, then Annie helped pinpoint the exact time with her Earth Search plug. They had made out the exact arrival of Caesar in Alexandria, and decided to come in a few days later.
But before Beckett went to visit Caesar, he thought he'd see a bit of the city first. After all, this was Beckett's first visit to a city outside of North America. He'd been around Eastern Canada. He'd been down to Seattle as well. But this was his first time off the continent! He brought his money pouch with him as well, which he kept in a fold in his tunic; Beckett had left the armour at Annie's.
Beckett stopped by a table selling bread. He pointed at the smallest piece and asked how much it was in Latin. The vendor replied, but in a language Beckett could not understand. He held out the coin he had determined to be of the smallest value. The vendor took the coin, did a quick computation in his mind, and gave back a few coins of a different currency.
Beckett took his small piece of bread with him, and continued to explore the city. The buildings were small, no-one taller than two floors. Beckett made his way through the winding streets, trying to hide his awe from the people he passed.
Beckett passed an old man begging for money. He stopped and gave him some of the coins he'd received from the vendor. The beggar thanked him as he continued.
Beckett moved around more buildings until he came close to open water. It was a harbour. He saw a number of sailors and vendors. People were moving around large bags. Must be grain. Beckett noted. Beckett had done a bit of reading before coming. He knew that Egypt was a major grain producer. Thus, it sold a lot of that grain to places around the mediterranean. Beckett climbed a set of large stairs around one of the larger buildings. He looked out over the water. Ships were docked; some were leaving; some had just arrived. In the distance, he saw the great Pharos Lighthouse. It was the tallest structure in Alexandria. The sailors used it to navigate into and out of the port at night.
Beckett was glad he had done some reading before coming. All he had known before was vague impressions of Egypt from old movies, which he'd later read created wrong understandings of what Alexandria was like at this time. It was a live and bustling city, not much different from Vancouver!
Beckett sat and watched the people move about for a few minutes. It was late in the afternoon, and also Beckett's Friday. This is normally when he'd be playing video games with Annie. He watched as a few younger children ran through the dock. I guess that's what kids did before video games. Beckett chuckled to himself, thinking about how many times his father told him to go outside and play rather than play games on his computer, or video game console, or phone.
From the crowd of people in the harbour, Beckett saw a cloaked man come towards him. He moved up the stairs. Beckett watched cautiously. The man lifted his hands and pulled back his cloak only slightly, exposing his face. It was Sulla!
Beckett stood up quickly, he put his fist to his chest, beginning to salute, but Sulla quickly reached out and grabbed Beckett's arm.
*It's best you don't do that.* Sulla said. *The Romans have few friends in Alexandria right now, and many enemies. It is best we keep a low profile.*
*Ptolemy?* Beckett replied. *How dangerous is he?*
*The King of Egypt is attempting to consolidate his power here. I have no doubt we shall find a solution, but the less attention we bring to ourselves, the better. A few Roman soldiers have already been attacked by local trouble-makers.*
*Then what are you doing out here?*
*Gathering information. I may not have your unique skills for mischief and swimming, but I can collect information. I can also speak Greek well enough to talk to some of the local people without rousing suspicion. The more languages one speaks, the more information one can collect. Regrettably, I do not know the local Egyptian language.*
*What information have you been collecting?* Beckett asked.
*The whereabouts of the Queen, the feelings of the locals towards their king, the feelings towards Rome and Caesar's presence here: all important information for Caesar. It is always preferable to know as much as possible before acting.*
*And what must Caesar do now?*
*He needs to determine how Egypt will be managed, and whether he can accomplish this with Ptolemy and Cleopatra. However, Ptolemy is trying to kill the Queen.*
*Yes, strange customs these Egyptians have.*
Beckett did not know what to say next. He was worried that he might say more and accidentally betray that he knew what would happen. Cleopatra would become ruler and Ptolemy would die. But Beckett wanted to see the famed moment when Cleopatra met Caesar. There were conflicting stories and representations about how this took place. Some sources described Cleopatra as a seducer. Other sites claimed that Caesar seduced her. Others still claim that Cleopatra is over-sexualised, and that her intellect and wit were underplayed by history. Was it about her beauty and charm? Or was she a genius, or 'polymath'; Beckett saw this word a few times in reference to Cleopatra. It meant that she had deep knowledge of multiple fields, including medicine, philosophy, and languages.
*Can we go to Caesar now?* Beckett asked.
*Of course. I'm sure he'll take your return as a blessing.* Sulla stood up and walked down the steps. Beckett quickly followed. *However, at the moment he is currently preparing himself to manage this struggle between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. Cleopatra and her army are outside the city, unable to get in. Ptolemy is keeping them at bay on the other side of the Nile River.*
*In the meantime, I was wondering if you perhaps could help me, then.*
*How might I do that?*
*I need to learn how to use a sword.*
*Again!* Sulla shouted as he flew towards Beckett at full speed. Beckett repeated the block-parry. He stepped to the side, and with his own wooden sword, forced Sulla's sword down towards the ground, and then sliced at his calf.
Sulla and Beckett were in the courtyard of the palace where Caesar and his advisors were discussing their next moves in Alexandria. They had a dispute to settle, and assassination attempts to avoid. Caesar had demanded the repayment of debts from Egypt to Rome. Ptolemy was not prepared to provide the funds. Naturally, murdering Caesar was a natural move for Ptolemy. Caesar therefore elected to keep his bodyguards and advisors with him at all times. A number of soldiers stood at the entrance to the palace annex where Caesar resided. In the meanwhile, Sulla was using the courtyard as a training ground.
*Is this really all there is to it?* Beckett asked.
*Not all. But if you master this move, it is easier to learn more applications. And in Gaul, where the attackers are far less skilled in tactics, this is your best move. It's simple. It requires less energy and exertion than a full frontal attack, and thus you'll be able to fight longer. That is perhaps the most important. Skill with a blade is of no use if you don't have the energy to sustain combat.*
*What about when fighting a trained army? How do you fight them?*
*Well, I suppose it depends on how well they are trained. If they are poorly trained, then this technique works fine. A better trained army will know what to expect and adapt. Surprisingly, many of the armies we've faced in recent years have been poorly trained.*
*Now again. But this time, do not strike me with the blade. As my momentum is going forward, put your leg out just above my ankle. Try to trip me.*
Sulla ran at Beckett. Beckett blocked the strike, stepped to the side and stuck out his leg. Sure enough Sulla lost his balance. Sulla, expecting the move landed on his knees.
*Well done.* He said. *But I shouldn't have landed on my knees.* He laboured to get up. *Not everyone can stay young like you.*
Beckett kept a straight face. Sulla looked right at him, hoping to get an explanation. None came.
*Anyway, remember, size and brute strength are useful.* Sulla continued. *But size doesn't always matter. Being small, an enemy will think he has an easy prey and will throw caution to the wind. Use that against your enemy, and you'll have the advantage. Never try to beat someone at their game. If they are bigger, let them move forward. If they are faster at long distances, keep them confined to short distances. If they swing hard at you, let them keep swinging. Once they are exhausted, your weaker blow may do immense damage.*
Beckett knew very little about combat before. But he could have found no better tutor than a Roman general.
A soldier walked out, saluted Sulla and whispered something to him.
*You've learned quickly. But I'm going to speak with Caesar now. I could use a break as well. My knees did not enjoy that last fall.*
*I shall keep practicing.* Beckett replied.
*Legionary Ovidius.* Sulla called out. *Help the boy train. Go harder on him than I did.*
A man in full armour stepped forward. He took the wooden training sword from Sulla.
*I'm sure Caesar will want to see you tonight by the party. But until then, you train!* Sulla said as he walked into the palace annex.
*Let's go.* Ovidius said.
Beckett raised his sword and faced Ovidius.
Later that night, Caesar dinned and drank with his generals, bodyguards. A number of soldiers stood guard. Caesar knew that Ptolemy was considering assassination. In fact, Caesar thought Ptolemy would be a fool not to. Ptolemy owed Caesar 100,000 drachma. It was a steep amount owed.
However, what Ptolemy possessed in malevolence, he lacked in leadership and pragmatism. Alexandria, and greater Egypt were in a dire economic situation. Egypt's economy was based on grain. Every year, when the Nile River flooded, the fertile ground it left behind after allowed Egypt to produce enough grain for itself, with plenty left for export. Unfortunately, the Nile had not flooded for 2 years. This dropped the grain production substantially. If the grain, and the many people who produced it were not managed properly, Egypt would fall apart. Ptolemy, a thirteen year-old boy, was hardly skilled in the craft of economics. His well-educated sister, however, was well-educated, motivated, and equally cunning. At the moment, she and her army were being hunted by those loyal to Ptolemy. Caesar claimed he would 'settle the leadership dispute' between the two, but Ptolemy knew that if she won over Caesar that he might have to flee from Alexandria.
It was a heavy situation. Caesar knew it. Ptolemy knew it. And Beckett knew it. He sat at one of the tables watching the entire room. Caesar sat between his guards. Sulla was not far behind him. Most of the men were drinking. Caesar drank, but did so slowly. He needed to look relaxed, but keep his wits about him. These men were the most loyal to Caesar. By having them drink, he was able to keep them near, and ward off any possible assassination attempt.
Beckett sat far from Caesar. He had a plate full of meat and some bread. He slowly ate and minded his own business. He occasionally listened in to a few of the legionaries tell their stories of battle, and occasionally of their sexual conquests. He was definitely learning some interesting slang in Latin. Sadly, he'd never have a chance to show it off. Romans had a lot of strange ways of talking about human anatomy. He thought about some of the slang English used for body parts and supposed it was equally strange.
The party went on into the night. A few people stopped to talk to Beckett. They were suspicious of him, but curious. Everyone in the room knew who he was and couldn't help but be curious as to where he was from. Antoni was also at the party, and told the story to one table. For surviving the battle north of Tellany, Antoni even showed a bit of respect for Beckett's resilience.
Eventually, the moment Beckett had been waiting for arrived. It was the moment he'd read about, and had even watched recreations of online. Over a dozen movies and TV shows had done it, and now Beckett was going to watch it: the arrival of Cleopatra. An old disheveled looking man walked into the room, carrying a large sac over his shoulder. He was quite strong for such a decrepit looking man.
The volume of conversations slowly dropped as the man made his way through the dinning hall. He made his way forward to Caesar's table at the other end. The two bodyguards behind Caesar put their hands on their swords as the man got closer. He put down the sac, which stretched out long, and untied the end.
The old man spoke. 'I introduce Queen Cleopatra.' He then bent down and pulled back the linen, exposing the Queen's face. Her eyes were closed, and she'd clearly been perspiring in the hot linen sac, although the danger she'd been through would have been adequate reason to sweat. She'd gotten past all of Ptolemy's army with no-one protecting her but a frail old man.
Cleopatra sat up and opened her eyes. After a few seconds to adjust to the light, she looked directly at Caesar in front of her.
*Julius Caesar, I presume.* She said.
*You presume correctly.* He replied.
*I have come to ensure the continued sustenance of our respective nations.*
There was then a bustle at the entrance to the dinning hall. Shouts came from the door. Beckett then looked over to the door. The guards stood their ground and resisted the pushes of whoever was trying to get in. Sulla walked over to the door to see what was going on. Beckett looked back at Caesar, who was maintaining eye-contact with Cleopatra.
*Is it Ptolemy?* Caesar asked.
*Yes, and Ponthius.* Sulla responded.
*Allow them in, and only them.*
It took a few moments, but eventually two people were let in. One was a taller old man, but behind him was a boy the same age as Beckett. This was Ptolemy. Beckett had read about the king of Egypt. He was a boy, married to his sister, the Queen Cleopatra. The two, however, had been in a power struggle. Ptolemy, being the male heir, had been widely supported by many people in power in Egypt. Cleopatra had been chased out of Alexandria by those loyal to him.
Ponthius and Ptolemy walked speedily towards the front of the hall where Caesar sat. They stepped in front of Cleopatra.
*She has no claim here.* Ponthius spoke. *You shall only negotiate with the rightful ruler, King Ptolemy.*
*My purpose here is to ensure that the people of Rome and of Egypt continue to benefit from effective governance. Egypt needs sound ruling, and the people of Rome need grain shipments. Any decisions we make are to ensure that this is accomplished.*
*Hello, dear husband.* Cleopatra spoke up. Ptolemy turned to look at her. He looked terrified.
Beckett had difficulty gathering information on this event. There was a large amount of information discussing the relationship of Caesar and Cleopatra. There was far less on the power struggle between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. And to make things more confusing, many recent articles on documentaries had commented that this information was poorly recorded. Either written down many years (and eve centuries) later, and that a lot of it was tainted by Romans who disliked Cleopatra. Beckett had difficulty understanding how history could be recorded inaccurately; however, he remembered a quote from Commander Bison from Crisis Shock. 'We control the history, so we can control the future.' This was just a few minutes before the games protagonist, Lieutenant Jansen fights him in the final battle of the game.
Beckett was about to see the real story.
*Egypt has a range of problems. The nile has not flooded as it has in the past, leaving the grain harvest lacking. The bureaucracy of Alexandria has put a strangle-hold on its effective management, and the farmers are left wondering how to support themselves if the next years flood is inadequate.* Caesar spoke, demonstrating that he'd been well-informed about the situation. *King Ptolemy, I'm sure you've put in place measures to avoid an agricultural and economic disaster.*
*The governing bodies around Egypt, they manipulate the farmers.* Ponthius began. *They withhold grain from Alexandria, which forces the cost to increase. The farmers know that they are to report accurately how much grain they yield. Regrettably, they don't listen to us. They listen to the local authorities who bribe them. These farmers must be punished.*
Beckett looked over to Caesar, who held a stern gaze. Cleopatra seemed to be concealing a smile.
*If the local managers are bribing the farmers, then why not punish them?* Caesar replied.
*They are too powerful. The farmers depend on them. The transporters trust them. If we attack them, we run the risk of upsetting people throughout the chain of production. We've tried punishing in the past. What happens is that another person steps in to take over, and this person manipulates them just the same.* Ponthius replied.
*We need to be more severe. Crucify all who resist us.* Ptolemy finally spoke up.
*Why not simply replace the local authorities with your own people?* Caesar asked.
*The farmers and transporters do not trust them. They do not listen to our people.* Ponthius replied.
*And why is that?* Caesar asked.
*Because the king's officers,* Cleopatra interrupted. *They do not speak the local language. The Egyptians do not speak Greek or Roman. They speak only Egyptian. They will not trust if they cannot understand.*
*Dogs!* Ptolemy interrupted again. *They disrespect the language of the rulers of this land.*
Cleopatra remained silent again. Beckett watched her carefully. Whenever Ponthius or Ptolemy spoke, she let them speak. Then she let the pause linger afterwards. Ponthius quickly became uncomfortable in their silence.
*Perhaps if a Roman legion were sent out to patrol the local farming authorities, then we might get them to pay attention.* Ponthius suggested.
*I am loathe to do so. The Egyptians have already killed four of my soldiers here in the streets of Alexandria. The last thing I want is for them to upset the farmers with their presence.* Caesar replied. Ponthius had no response.
Cleopatra finally spoke up. *My people, my officers speak the local language. We can earn the trust of the farmers. If they can manage the farmers, then the authorities will not dare to go against us.*
*The filthy Egyptian language! How dare they not learn Greek...* Ptolemy shouted.
*And I speak the local language.* Cleopatra finally interrupted. *They trust me. My dear husband will never gain anyone's trust if he cannot communicate with them. The people of Egypt are proud, but they've lived the last two hundred years in fear. You say we are here to help them, but they feel repressed and heavily taxed. Speak their language and earn their trust.*
*We give them markets for their grain. They earn more money by selling what they produce.* Ptolemy shouted.
*Only when the Nile rises high. The last few years have been a poor harvest. They sell less grain. They earn less money, yet we tax them the same amount. My dear husband,* Cleopatra spoke, but looked at Ponthius. *He will not ease the tax burden. The local grain distributors use this against us. We become the enemy. The local distributors become their protector. If we befriend the farmers, we take away the power of the distributors.*
*She has a very good point.* Caesar said, looking to Ponthius and Ptolemy. *Since neither of you speak the Egyptian language, it's reasonable to assume your ability to manage the country is limited. The Egyptian army can do little to enforce this economic issue. And it is expensive to wage this kind of war. I assure you. I have nearly 10 years of experience in doing so.*
*I have a list of measures we can take to ensure that the Egyptian grains flow, and that the farmers are productive.* Cleopatra spoke.
*I have no doubt. We shall discuss these over the next few weeks, while my soldiers prepare to head East.* Caesar said.
*Here, they shall be well looked after and given a safe place to rest and convalesce.*
Beckett looked over to Ptolemy. Everything Ptolemy and Ponthius had planned and conspired to do was now being brushed aside by Cleopatra. Beckett looked over at Cleopatra who stood tall, and showed no fear. Cleopatra had no secret plan. She was simply ready and well-equipped to rule. Ptolemy had nothing to contribute to what his sister had planned. Cleopatra had lived her whole life learning, improving, and pursuing education. Ptolemy had been assumed he was entitled to rule. He had spent no time preparing. He could simply not compete with Cleopatra. Ptolemy's eyes were filled with rage and helplessness. His entire assumption had been undermined.
*No.* Ptolemy said. *The farmers and priests will follow me. I am their divine ruler.*
Caesar looked over at Ptolemy and Ponthius. He remained silent for a moment. Cleopatra did not move. Her eyes remained fixed ahead on Caesar.
*We shall come to some sort of understanding soon.* Caesar said, his eyes remaining trained on Cleopatra.
*Excellent.* Cleopatra replied.
*We're leaving.* Ptolemy said.
*My king-* Ponthius begin, but Ptolemy was already leaving. Ponthius and his entourage followed quickly.
Over the next hour, the dinner festivities resumed their raucous nature. Beckett, thinking he had seen everything he had seen everything he came to see, slowly slipped out one of the doors.