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Self destruction

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

A little flask loomed large on the table before Arinna, as wailing continued throughout the harem. The former wife of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut’s father, sat stiffly, fully dressed in her finest attire, bedecked with jewelry, her makeup applied expertly.

Every time another cry arose in the night, like embers of a bonfire, her dark eyes flashed with satisfaction, and she smiled slightly. It is done, she thought, I’ve won.

Looking into the goblet full of wine before her, she thought back to her twelfth birthday, when she came of age. Her mother had given her a similar cup full of the red liquid saying, “My daughter, you are the joy of my life. I give this first cup of wine to you, so that every time you drink the fruit of the vine you may remember this day and my love. I am proud of you, you will be great and bring much honor to our house.”

I love you mother

I love you mother, she thought, as she opened the little flask and poured it’s contents into the cup of lotus-laced wine.

Until I left you that day, Mother, my life was happy and secure. Now look at me, she thought bitterly as she swished the cup back and forth slightly, mixing the liquids together.

That fateful day, so long ago, Arinna had left everything and everyone she knew, traveling with the group of emissaries and their returnee of servants and soldiers to a foreign land. The bearers of her palanquin carried the fate of the Hittite kingdom on their shoulders, only to arrive at a bewildering place – a people of strange tongue and even stranger gods.

Emerging from her litter, she stood, muscles sore from the many days’ journey. Skinny, breasts barely showing through her dress on her willow-like body, her eyes squinting in the harsh sun of Pharaoh’s court. Women with odd shaped eyes, barely dressed, greeted her, mangling her language as they tried to speak it. She felt like a piece of meat thrown to the dogs and of no more import.

Thutmose I, one of the the mightiest Pharaohs Egypt had every produced, successfully fought his way to the very borders of the Anatolian kingdom, forcing her father to sue for peace, offering up his young daughter to seal a treaty through marriage and tribute. That day, standing in the inner court of Pharaoh’s Royal Harem, the child inside had died as she dutifully prepared to wed her people’s mortal enemy.

Bull of Egypt

Formalities fulfilled, the great Thutmose I, the Bull of Egypt, performed his duty, and she conceived. Nine months later, Arinna brought forth a male heir, thus immediately making her one of the chief wives among his great harem. Holding Pharaoh’s newborn in her arms, joy returned to her heart. Her mother sent word that she was proud and would visit soon. Everyone congratulated her and treated her with deference and respect. Yet, another like her, Mutnofret, also bore the king a son, and though a minor wife, she was full-blooded Egyptian.

Soon after though, Arinna’s month-old son took ill with a mysterious sickness. No court physician could explain it, much less cure him. Throwing their hand up in despair, they prayed to their gods, saying there was nothing more that could be done. Her baby lay dead in a matter of days and she, barely fourteen years old, was no longer of any importance. Mutnofret’s son, named Thutmose II, would surely grow to be the next Pharaoh.

Breaking out of her past, Arinna thought, as she studied her wine, Of course, it would be soon known, or at least suspected, that I had a hand in Senenmut’s death. But no matter! I have crippled your kingdom and your infernal daughter, Hatshepsut! It is my victory! She smiled as she raised her cup to her mouth. Sniffing the contents, she noted that it didn’t smell like death. Perhaps it won’t be that bad after all, she thought as she parted her lips.

Senenmut is dead!

“Senenmut is dead!” and anguished voice rang out as there was a pounding on her door. Tell me something I don’t know…she thought, rolling her eyes. But, soldiers? This soon? she turned her head towards the door.

Knock, Knock, Knock! “Please, Mistress, open, there’s been a great tragedy!”

Not soldiers, she thought, oddly relieved. Thinking fast, Arinna calculated what to do next. This may be my only chance before they come for me, but...something in the voice of the servant outside lacked the expected outrage and anger. “What is it?” She called out, trying to sound sleepy.

“Senenmut is dead! There’s been a terrible accident! He tripped and fell!”

“Fell? What do you mean, ‘fell’?” she said, genuinely surprised, getting up and coming to the door. Cracking it just enough to see the young man’s worried face, she said, “It cannot be! You must be mistaken!” she said, feigning shock.

“No, I tell the truth, Great Mistress, they say he tripped and hit his head. Maskia found him this morning. The Vizier of of Pharaoh is dead!”

After a long pause, Arinna cried, “No! It cannot be! Let it not be!”

“I tell the truth, he has begun his journey to the Field of Reeds.”

Turning, pretending to weep as she covered her eyes, she sobbed, “It is a dark day for all, then, for he was the right hand of Pharaoh. Leave me to grieve, go now.” As the door shut, she straightened. Surprise rising on her face, she stood motionless while considering her alternatives. Realizing the truth, she whispered, “They didn’t find the snake!” Putting her hand to the wall, she steadied herself on the cold hard stone, her knees weak. Could it be? Did my servants fail to deliver it? Was his death purely an accident? After awhile, as her pounding heart began to calm she thought, the gods surely favor me. Then, walking quickly towards the table, taking the wine mixture she’d prepared for herself, Arinna emptied its contents into the vase of a nearby plant.

The little flask

Returning to the table, placing the goblet down, Arinna was startled by another loud banging. Then the door flew open as four soldiers entered abruptly. “You’re highness, you are instructed by Pharaoh to come with us.”

Again, shocked, not having to pretend this time, she exclaimed “Why?”

“Pharaoh’s vizier is dead, and for your safety we are to take the you to the palace immediately.”

Looking at the set of their faces, Arinna said, “Leave me for a moment as I prepare, then I will go.”

“No,” the leader said, “you must go now, all will be provided at the Palace.” Seeing her hesitation, the lead soldier came close and said, “My humble apologies, Mistress, but we will take you by force if necessary.”

Involuntarily glancing at the small bottle still sitting on the table, Arinna lifted her chin saying, “That won’t be necessary.”

Grim and slow

By the time Bren and the others left the Harem, thousands of soldiers lined the street leading to the royal barge. The procession was as grim, as it was slow; the children clinging to their mothers as the older ones carried the youngest. In a world full of sad things Bren had witnessed in her life, this must have been the saddest. Pharaoh, in her palanquin, headed the procession, her face hidden from view by the veils around her.

Bren felt their hearts, all their hearts; sensing the wives’ unbearable loss and children’s confusion. That is, except for those at the very end of their small company. Those hearts were filled with fear of the future, the feeling that a trapped rat has when cornered by a cat with no way out.

Bren reached out for Hatshepsut in her heart, trying to feel her, but her emotions were impregnable, walled up inside her. Right now, Bren thought, one could get more out of a stone statue of Horus than her.

Dolce

(Rome, 1690)

A week later, Matteo and Pietro sat in the the receiving room, waiting for his Nonna to appear. Despite the protests of her physician, the grand dam of House Imperialli got her way. Nonna, never one to show up on time, was particularly late this morning, so much so, that Matteo was beginning to worry about her when she suddenly appeared holding a small dog.

Oh blazes to hell! Matteo thought, as his eyes and the beady eyes of her pampered pooch locked, the small creature growling, lifting it’s flabby jowls to bear it’s yellowed teeth. Of all God’s creatures great and small, Matteo hated her pet demon the most. Spoiled to a ridiculous extent, the infernal bite-sized hound from hell, had refused to die like all other mortal pets, clinging to life as ferociously as his Nonna did. Barely bigger than a hand bag, it nevertheless was roly-poly, being profoundly fat for it’s diminutive size. Add to that it’s weak bladder, which made it constantly pee everywhere it went, inside and outside, caused Matteo to despise it as no other beast.

Varying degrees of success

In fact, Mafalda had hired a young maid strictly to follow the dog around the house with instructions to place a small bowl in position whenever it lifted it’s leg, which the poor young woman did, with varying degrees of success.

Once, seeing it pee for the sixth time in a half hour, Matteo had exclaimed, “That is impossible! That dog has peed more than it’s own body weight!”

As Nonna now approached, Matteo said, “Surely Nonna, Dolce can stay here, I thought this was our day together?”

The old lady, seeing her grandson’s pleading eyes, replied, “Pish posh, you two will simply have to work things out. It is my day, and I want both of you with me as I ride down memory lane.”

Pietro, looking at his master, then at Mafalda’s pet, thought with a veiled smile, This should be interesting.

“Come, grandson, try to pet him, he has mellowed in his age,” as she held him out, her arms shaking for the weight. Gingerly, Matteo extended his gloved hand to pet him, at which the dog promptly snapped.

“See, Nonna, he hates me!”

Taking him back, she said to the little dog, “Now be nice, Dolce, my little prince. No need to be mean, Matteo’s our family!” As she turned and hobbled towards the carriage, Dolce twisted his pudgy neck, growling and keeping an eye on the prince as he followed.

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