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Karnak

(Egypt 1460 B.C.)

A little while later, Kontar returned with two young women in tow, one carrying a clay pot and the other a basket. Smiling broadly, Bren’s captor said, “My servants will help you bathe and then clothe you appropriately for the sale. I’ve called very important people, they expect to see my best, and I never disappoint! I checked the sundial before I came, it is almost time! Please hurry!”

Bowing slightly with a flourish of his arms in an outward motion, the rotund man left as the two tall, black women entered her cell. Looking at them closely, Bren notice that they were identical. One smiled meekly, saying, “Please, let us help you prepare for the market.”

Bren, feeling that no one was stating the obvious, blurted out, “Let me get this straight, I am about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder as a slave, right?”

Looking at one another, the twins said, “Yes, of course.”

“And everyone is okay with this?!”

One of them set her clay pot on the ground, saying, “Mistress -”

“Call me Brenzel, please.”

“Bren…zel,” the girl said slowly, as if it would not roll off her tongue properly. “It is an honor to be sold by Master Kontar. He is a very great man in Karnak and cares very much for his property. To be sold by him to one of his wealthy clientele means you will have a good home and be well taken care of. The gods favor you Mistress.”

Please, Mistress Brenzel, let us prepare you

Then her sister, said, “Please, Mistress, there is little time to talk, allow us to prepare you.”

Brenzel looked at the two women, utterly serious about what was being said. The absurdity of it all bothered her greatly, but she had to admit, she was being treated kindly and with respect. “Go with it,” she heard in her head. Thinking back to her time with Charlie, she recognized who spoke and said in her heart, Fine.

Looking through her basket, the young woman asked her sister, “ìr sààbúúngà jáánnáà?”

In a fold of her dress, her identical reached, handing her a small round ball, which Brenzel assumed must be the soap she asked for.

The black girls disrobed her carefully, obviously taken by her golden hair, and began to wash her with sponged warm water. There was a kind of scented soap they applied, which felt smooth and luxurious on her skin. Ever since the Seven Days of Wonder, clothes to Bren seemed more functional than an necessity, so she felt no self consciousnesses as they cleaned her thoroughly, applying lotion afterwards. Both combed her hair carefully, again applying some sort of fragrant oil, which made her locks shine. The twins were curious but respectful, asking Bren if she was comfortable at every step of their ministrations. Finally, they asked her to don a fine cotton dress of similar design as theirs, but more elaborate. Picking up their supplies they excused themselves, saying they wanted to alert their master, Kontar, that she was ready. As the two girls turned to leave, Bren asked, “Wait!, what are you names? Together, smiling they said in a single voice, “Sara.”

When am I?

When they returned with two large guards, the men stopped and starred, forgetting for a moment why they came. One leaned over to the other, whispering in revernece, “she’s a goddess.” Brenzel, clearing her throat, brought them back to their senses, then went with them quietly. Walking through, what turned out to be a large complex of stone halls, all with those curious pictures chiseled into them, she looked at her captors with curiosity. Everything, to them, seemed normal and commonplace; while to her, the notion of slavery violated her basic sense of human decency. How could one human “own” another, what gave them the right?

Also, where was she and, more importantly, when was she? Just in that moment, a pang of missing Robyn hit her hard, as she remembered her young friend saying after the story forest, “We will watch you closer to make sure we know when you are.” Right now, Bren thought, it would be comforting to know just that.

Estate

(Italy 1690)

Matteo, fresh from his morning bath, stood as his man servant dressed him for the day. Before him, a pair of large doors lay open to the terrace, revealing a magnificent view of the mountains. In his summer home, feeling good, far away from the troubles of Vatican City, the prince resumed his normal life of parties, hunting, and general frivolity. In his spare time, though, he carefully plotted his revenge on that infernal all-knowing monk, with a slow, patient, terrible intent.

After hearing Matteo rant about the farce of a wedding he’d just been put through, Pietro said, “Master, you needn’t worry, the woman is well cared for and far away at the moment. There is nothing you need do. Forget her and all the tedium that goes with her.”

Looking fondly at his compatriot, Prince Imperiali said, “I am happy here with you, of course, but there is a game I wish to play, and I want you to help me.”

“What sort of game?” Pietro inquired suspiciously, for he knew what that look on his lover’s face usually meant.

The little king

Fiammetta grew in girth weekly as the time of life approached. Tim, spending the night with her nearly as often as he could, doted on her and the boys. Finally, he thought, things are returning to normal. The housing he chose, with Cardinal Jenkins’ gracious help, was a house literally attached to a portion of the Vatican, where the late Borgia Pope used to keep his mistresses.

“Did you get them?” Fiammetta inquired as soon as Tim entered her room.

Taking off his cloak from his urgent morning’s errand, he said, “Yes, of course, my love, plus some fresh rye and crackers.”

“You are a dear,” she smiled, handing the package to Maria, who hurried towards the kitchen to arrange them for her.

“How is my angel this glorious morning? Have you felt the baby again?”

“No, I think he’s sleeping now, but I am sure he’ll keep me up all night again,” she grinned as she rolled her eyes.

Tim wondered why they both kept referring to their child as a he, for it could be a she, but lest he jinx it, he kept quiet and agreed. Sitting with her on the large, four-posted bed, Tim reached over and felt her stomach saying, “Hello in there…treat your mother well this evening, she needs her rest.”

Maria brought in the platter of pickled herring topped with raw onion, garnished with leafy greens. As Fia began to devour the small fishes and crackers, she said with her mouth full, “Do you want some, my Love?”

Looking at her and them he said, “Not now, I ate a fresh roll at the market.” Truthfully he hadn’t, but Tim hated fish altogether. Something about the smell, at which these pickled fishes excelled, disgusted him. “Why don’t you open the window dear, let some light in?”

“Maria will, but this morning I felt like resting, as our little king was so active in the wee hours.”

Tim caressed her face, kissing her forehead. “I understand.”

Then, broaching the topic most on his mind, Tim asked, “Has the imp’s grandmother inquired about visiting you again?”

The old woman’s like a bad habit

Frowning, Fia said, “Yes, twice. She’s like a bad habit I can’t seem to shake. Her people are most insistent that, at the very least, she be allowed to see me before the baby arrives. I confess, I’m simply running out of excuses!”

“I don’t like her,” Tim replied, remembering the wedding. “She reminds me too much of her grandson – impudent, imprudent, and insufferable.” Shaking his head, he said, “I don’t want her around you, tell her anything you like, but no visits until after our son is born – and even then, perhaps not.”

Fiammetta knew that what he suggested was impractical, but for the moment she said nothing, finishing the last of her delicious herrings.

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