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Strolling through Karnak

(Egypt 1460 B.C.)

Brenzel and her captors made their way through the bright opening just ahead. The captive stepped into the sunlight, squinting. A world full of strange sights pressed upon her mind suddenly. People! Multitudes of men, women, and some children, hurried about in similar clothes as hers, carrying bundles or pulling donkeys, cows, or goats, scampered about everywhere in the broad street.

Tall trees, like giant feather dusters turned upside down, lined the avenue. Many buildings sported stylized murals of people with human bodies, but the heads of beasts. Vivid greens, yellows, and reds shouted at her as she walked down the street, demanding to be seen. Rounding a corner, a statue of a grave-looking bird, taller than her, appeared. In the distance above the rows of shops with overhanging tarps, loomed two tall, dagger-like columns, gleaming semi-white in the noonday sun. Behind them appeared the heads of huge statues of sitting men with large hats. Further away still loomed enormous walls.

Kontar, noticing Brenzel taking in the city with awe, said proudly, “Welcome to Karnak!”

The talk of the city!

As the small party walked, people stopped and stared. Some murmured in astonishment, “Hathor!” while others stepped forward, trying to touch her. News spread quickly of the strange sight, because more and more people lined the street on both sides of their progress, almost blocking the way. The guards yelled repeatedly, now with swords drawn, “Back! Back you rabble! Make way! Make way!” Bren realized, the guards were never worried about my escape, just protecting me from the curious.

Presently, they rounded a corner and slipped through an ornate door into a large, high roofed room where around 50 men and women stood or sat. The two Saras found a place for Brenzel to sit while they stood by her. The guards took up stations at both doors. Kontar, after briefly disappearing, came over to them saying gaily, “You’re already the talk of the city and hardly anyone’s even seen you yet!” Coming closer, he whispered, “Don’t worry, the auction can be a bit …ah…shall we say…noisy. There is no need to fret, though, you’re safe. Just smile and turn when I ask. All will be well.”

Brenzel sat, trying to compose herself after he left again, folding her hands lightly. Finally she said, “Sara,” as both girls turn towards her, “Where are we, what land is this?”

One said, “Mistress, this is Egypt.”

Quickly going through her limited knowledge of Egypt, she said, “Pyramids?”

The other Sarah said, “Oh yes, the tombs of the great houses, certainly.”

The main attraction

Just then, some sort of gong sounded outside, then little bells rang randomly, followed by music. Bren picked out something like a flute, a stringed instrument, and a drum, all weaving a haunting melody that loped along, rising and falling, gaining in grandeur as it progressed.

Waiting, Brenzel saw the other men and women be called, then leave dutifully. No one cried, or even seemed bothered by the fact that they were being sold. Outside the room, the auction went on, sometimes boisterous, but all in all seemingly in good cheer. It became obvious, as more and more people left, that she was the main attraction, being left until last.

One Sara said, as she placed a wreath of woven flowers upon Brenzel’s head, “Master Kontar wants us to accompany you, he believes the contrast of our skins will highlight yours.” Putting their arms next to hers, they giggled and nodded to each other. Finally, Kontar came in and called Brenzel and her escorts. Rising, heart beating fast, Bren followed them to the door, standing with them as they raised a semi-transparent sheet of cloth before her. Through the sheer fabric, Bren saw Kontar make his way to the center of a semi circle, facing the crowd.

My finest offering!

Kontar boomed, “Esteemed priests, honored men and women of wealth and respect! I welcome you to our main event of the day, to our last and greatest offering, a rare gem of unsurpassed beauty, brought to you from across the Great Sea, plucked from the mysterious lands of the barbarian kings!”

Turning her head back over her shoulder, one of the Nubian twins whispered, “Follow us, but keep behind the sheet.”

“But, no, kind men and women of Karnack, do not take my feeble words as fact, feast your eyes on a woman so extraordinary, her likes have never been seen in all of Egypt!”

Following the sisters out, their bare feel taking short mincing steps, Bren moved slowly behind the cloth veil.

With a flair of his arms and hands, and bowing low, the slave master said, “I present to you my finest: Brenzel!” With that, the two Saras let go of the veil, fabric floating to the stage. For a moment, everyone stared in silence, looking at the tall, stunning blond before them, then pandemonium broke loose as at least half those present began shouting offers all at once. Bren stepped backwards slightly as the wall of sound hit her. Kontar, raising his hands, eventually quieted the crowd as he said, gesturing towards her, “The proof is in the seeing, is it not? but do not mistake this vision of Hathor as only a pretty face, no! She speaks fluent Coptic as well as any of your grandmothers and …” he paused for dramatic effect, “perfect Nubian, too! Behind her lovely green eyes lies extraordinary talent, a perfect aid to your esteemed wives or to your favorite servants who are less endowed with wisdom from the gods!”

Pieces of gold

Beginning to perspire, Kontar wiped his brow with a whit cotton cloth, saying, “I open the bidding at one thousand pieces of gold!”

“One thousand! a slim man shouted.

“Twelve hundred!” another said.

“Thirteen hundred!” still another fat man with a large wart on his forehead offered.

So on and so forth went the bidding, tempers flaring as her price rose steadily, some shouting in exasperation at how unseemly it was to pay so much for a mere woman.

Kontar, sweating more and more as the auction raged, realized history was being made today at his slave auction. A sort of fever gripped the crowd as they strove with one another to win the prize at all costs.

Onward and upward the bidding spiraled until it came down to just two men, the fat one with the wart and the one who looked, to Bren, like a priest. The bids rose higher to 3600, 3650, 3700, 3725, until finally the fat man shouted “Four thousand!” At that, the priest left off, raising his hands, palms up in defeat.

Kontar, breathless, for no slave had ever been sold for more than half as much in all of Karnak, said, “Are there no other offers?”

Sold!

At the back of the forum, unnoticed by the crowd, a hand slipped between folds of the finest linen hanging like curtains on four sides of a magnificent palanquin. A forefinger signaled upwards slightly, then pointing towards the tall blond on sale. The vizier standing in front of the palanquin turned and announced with a loud voice, “Eight thousand!” as the crowed gasped in astonishment.

The fat man, beet red, whirled round, shouting furiously, “Absurd! no one pays -” Then realizing who it was, fell to the ground with everyone else, saying hurriedly, “A thousand apologies, I knew not Your Majesty spoke, forgive your humble servant – I meant no disrespect.”

The vizier, looking upwards towards the palanquin again, listened intently, then added, “And send the slave’s two companions also.”

Kontar, forehead glued to the ground said “Sold!” in an astonished voice as 16 muscled black bearers in golden headdresses and not much more than loin cloths, silently carried the victor away.

Bren, also kneeling, face to the ground at the urging of her two companions, whispered, “Who was that?”

In a hushed tone, both Saras said, “Pharaoh.”

Something dark stirs

(Italy, 1690)

Pietro stood at the outside of the house in the morning, at the head of all the other servants, waiting for the prince to appear. Last night, Matteo’s manservant tactfully argued about the unnecessary risk of seeing the “wife” so soon after the marriage. He’d barely been back a month, now he was making the journey of several hundred leagues again, and to what aim? Moreover, Pietro wondered, what could draw his lover thus? Something dark stirred in the young man’s imagination, sensing his master’s preoccupation with leaving, unwilling to share the details of his reasoning for the journey.

As Matteo strode out of the house, all his servants bowed low, wishing him safe journey. Stopping at his manservant, Price Imperiali said, “Fear not, good man, you and I will return in a fortnight.”

Expressionless, his servant said, “Yes, Sire.”

Smiling, Matteo turned, stepped up and into the carriage as Pietro took his position beside the driver. “Hah!” the coachman urged the four steeds forward into action.

The Holy See can be a dangerous place

The countryside rolled by at a lazy pace, vineyards and farms, individual houses and hamlets dotting the journey. Altogether, it was a beautiful morning to be out and about in Italy. Down the narrow roads that consisted of little more than two bare ruts in the grass, the carriage made it’s way steadily towards Vatican City. The progress was slow, and the ride jarring at times, even with the springs of the expensive carriage taking most of the punishment. During one such jolt, however, everything went sideways as the back wheel inexplicably came off, the driver and Pietro flying from their seats. Matteo, thrown against the side of the cabin, felt pain and dizziness, momentarily disoriented. The horses, spooked, drug the carriage on it’s side several hundred feet, two men frantically chasing after it. Finally, what was left of the carriage stopped as the frame caught on a protruding stump. Pietro climbed onto the damaged carriage, opening the door, asking frantically, horrified that his master wasn’t moving, “Sire, are you well!?”

In the fog and pain, Matteo remembered the words of Pietro’s caution last evening, “Sir, here you are protected, at the estate you are among friends and trusted servants. The Holy See can be a dangerous place, anything can happen. I fear for your safety.”

Matteo shouted angrily, “Get me out of here!”

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