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Predawn Light

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Bren’s mouth slack, sleeping deeply, a fly buzzed up, down, and around, dangerously close to her lips, drawn by the moisture on her breath. Waking up next to her, one of the Saras brushed it away, fearing her mistress would swallow it, gagging. Thinking about rousing her, or perhaps getting her to roll over, Sara stared at her new friend for awhile in the predawn light. Now, weeks since they’d met, Sara felt she truly loved her. Her new friend took them everywhere, held their hands in public, shared her food, listened to their stories and opinions. Sara thought, You treat me like a person – in your presence, I matter.

Remembering the day before, Sara winced inside as she replayed the incident in her mind’s eye: “You fool! Do you know how much that oil costs!” He yelled, “Idiot!” after she’d tripped and spilled some oil from a heavy jar. Cowering on the dirt floor, her hands covering her head, she expected a beating, a stick raised in his hand. Then, nothing. Looking up, Sara saw him look stunned, his face turning from anger to surprise, then to shame as he slowly turned away, eyes down. Then she’d felt a hand lightly on her shoulder. Turning with tears in her eyes, she saw Bren, looking from above with genuine concern. You care about my feelings. Sara pondered, no one’s that kind to a slave. It felt strange mattering to someone else than her sister. For practically the first time in her short life, Sara felt valued.

Before the sun rose on the slow moving waters, both Saras made their way to the kitchen to begin their day. After helping make breakfast, they would go to the looms where one of the wives taught them to make fine linen. Unknown to most, the art of breaking, scutching, combing, then weaving the finest cloth, was a skill they both desired to learn. In a half-conscious way, the two Kushite girls felt bettering themselves was almost proof they would someday be free.

Dalila and Ife

Later that morning, two little girls, Dalila and Ife, ran into Bren’s room, pouncing. “Wake up, wake up, Brennie!” they said.

Startled half awake, she rolled over, saying, “Please darlings, let Brennie sleep.” Dalila began tickling her sleeping friend, wheedling little fingers into her armpits until Bren turned over and tickled them both in return. Like small kittens, they rolled on the floor, laughing and giggling. Now thoroughly awake, Bren asked, “What is it?” noting the excitement in their cherub-like faces.

“A party, Brennie!” Ife exclaimed, “A party for you! Mom was talking about and we heard everything!”

“In seven days we’re going to have a big party!” both girls said, bouncing up and down gleefully.

Ages nine and six respectively, her little friends, as Bren affectionately called them, had become attached to her at the hip. For the two daughters of Masika, Bren was, as they put it, “nice” and they spent every moment they could with her. Masika, apologizing once while retrieving her daughters, said, “I’m sorry, I try to keep them at home, but it’s a game now to slip away and see you. The good thing is, at least I know where to find them,” she added, grinning.

Bren, smiling back at the high-born Egyptian, and said, “I don’t mind, they’re no trouble. Mostly they just play or sit by me.”

Leading the way

Today, each holding a finger as they led the way, Bren walked with them to the kitchen as the smell of fresh bread made her stomach grumble. Along the way, Arinna waved her over. “I see you have an important escort today, Brenzel!” Feeling big, each one stood up straight and looked important.

“Yes, Arinna, I don’t know what I’d do without them to guide me, they are such good helpers!”

The royal wife said, “I hope you’re ready for some excitement, dear, we’ve all gotten together and decided it is time to officially welcome you into our home.”

“Yes!” Ife chimed in, “We already told her!”

Smiling, Arinna said, “Well done, I see you are very knowledgeable for one so young!”

“We’re on our way for something to eat, would you like to join us?” Brenzel asked.

“No, thank you, Brenzel. There’s an envoy from my homeland arriving today, and I must welcome them.” Smiling, the royal wife then added, “Some other time, though, we must get know each another better.”

“I understand,” Bren said, looking at the brunette closely. Why don’t I trust you? Bren wondered to herself as she smiled back, saying “Taksul!” turning to leave.

Though the Anatolian princess made no outward sign, once Bren had turned her back, Arinna watched her walk away in surprise. No! She couldn’t possibly know that word, no one I’ve met here speaks Hittite!

As Bren sat finishing some bread and honey, a servant walked over, bowing low, saying, “Mistress Brenzel, Royal Vizier Senenmut requests your presence tomorrow afternoon before the evening meal.”

Bren, looking at the young man who was nervously studying the floor, answered, “Yes, of course, please tell your master I will come.”


“Please! Bren, you must like my father,” Ife said, “I know Father will love you, just like us.”

“Senenmut is your father?” Brenzel asked in surprise.

“Yes, Brennie, he is a very great man, second in the kingdom to Pharaoh herself!” Dalila said proudly.

Looking at her little friends, Bren realized the riddle of the presence of children in the harem was officially solved.

Her curiosity piqued, Bren inquired, “Do you have any more brothers and sisters?”

“Well, there is Chisisi, my oldest brother, he is 14 and too serious; Akilia, 12, and Rana, she is also 12 but two months younger; Nanu, she’s 11, Shani, 10, Me, I’m 9, Gyasi, he’s 6 like Ife. Then there’s – “

But as she was about to continue, Bren held up her hand saying, “Wait…wait, Dalila, how many children does your mother have?”

The young girl looked at her, saying, “Three: Me, my sister Ife, and my brother, Sadiki, he’s two.”

Confused by the apparent incongruity, Bren inquired further, “Then how many brothers and sisters do you have?”

Counting slowly on her fingers, Dalila reach the end of her ten digits, then started over again on her small left hand, “Eleven, twelve, thirteen. Thirteen!”

A commonality

“But,” Bren said still confused, “you told me you had only a one sister and a brother, how does that add up to thirteen?”

Laughing, Dalila said, “Silly Brennie, they are from my other mothers!”

Looking at the young girl, Bren asked slowly as the truth dawned upon her, “How. . .many. . . mothers do you have?”

Counting again on her fingers, she said, “Six.”

“But…” face going expressionless and eyebrows raising, Bren reiterated just to make sure she understood the complete picture, “And the Vizier, Senenmut, is the father of all of you?”

“Of course, who else could Daddy be?” Dalila said matter-of-factly.

In that moment, Bren thought to herself, No, it couldn’t be, yet… Suddenly, everything clicked; it made a strange type of sense. Hatshepsut was female, yet she had many female “wives”. Senenmut lived in the Royal Harem, apparently running it as his own house.

Now, her original fear returned. She thought, shaking her head, Uh uh, that’s not my cup of tea! Then realizing that the children she’d seen around the great house all seemed to have a certain commonality of personality and looks, she remembered something her father used to say in when planting in the spring, “Good seed makes a good crop!”

Do I smell?

(Vatican City, 1690)

Tim yelled, “More hot water!” as he scrubbed furiously. Several days of baths had not erased Beauty’s stench until servants became worried at how many times their master asked, “How do I smell?” They all, to a man or woman, said, “good” or “pleasant,” until Tim wondered if the sulfur smell was in his mind rather than his body.

Likewise, and perhaps worse, he couldn’t get the feeling of her tongue on his face out of his mind. The sticky, sweet smell burned in his loins until he found himself wondering how he could face Fiammetta again. Scowling, he felt defiled inside and out, as he toweled off.

Tim, after surviving his “examination,” kept to himself for days. Cardinal Jenkins had the good sense to remain scarce, letting the whole issue settle into his apprentice’s mind.

Buried in detail

Working on papers from Scotland and England, Cardinal Lambert buried himself in the details of what would become known later as the “glorious revolution.” Under the watchful gaze of Christ on the mural above him, the future head of The Order plotted how to bring the empowered parliaments under sway. It was clear now that the monarchies in England and, indeed, all of Europe, were on the wain. Kings and queens no longer enjoyed the assumption of legitimate rule by divine right. Therefore, it was unclear how The Order would maintain control over the levers of power. Her Majesty’s plan to promote religious tolerance seemed, at least in Tim’s mind, to complicate issues needlessly. Moreover, vast amounts of monies and political capital were now being spent to promote the enlightenment with no clear advantage to the church.

Fortunately, Fia had not called desperate for his attention. When Maria had sent word to join his love for dinner, he’d made a plausible excuse. However, soon he would have to see her, lest she wonder at his odd behavior. Tim thought to himself, God, I hope I don’t stink.

The Tempest and the tea cup

Fia reclined uncomfortably on her bed, propped up by many pillows, sipping tea. Maria read aloud from Shakespeare’s, The Tempest. Trying to reposition herself, she suddenly winced and felt her stomach. Maria, ever on the alert, stopped reading, saying, “Lady, is it?”

Nodding her head quickly, grimacing at the feeling of her back on fire, Fia replied, “I think so, I think it’s finally time!”