Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Melting Ice

(Rome, 1691)

Late in the morning, Matteo ate his breakfast in silence as Pietro stood by his side. The prince had barely spoken a word since his return from Nonna Mafalda’s residence. Standing straight, but relaxed as possible to avoid fatigue, Pietro sank into his memories while his master sat dejectedly, picking at his food.

Finally, the sullen prince turned and said, “I would visit Lady Mafalda today.”

“Yes, sire,” Pietro answered.

Then, looking up at his manservant, Matteo said, “Forgive me, I have been…preoccupied lately,” extending his hand.

Looking at his eyes, Pietro moved closer and cautiously took it. Feeling his reassuring touch, the warmth of his fingers, some of the ice began to melt in his heart. Perhaps I’ve overreacted, the young man thought as they both let the silence of the room envelope them.

Later that afternoon, Matteo walked into the the entrance of Lady Mafalda’s estate, greeting the doorman, who hastily swung it wide for the prince. Handing over his cloak to the butler, Matteo waited as the servant announced his presence. After some time, he ascended the stairs to his Nonna’s room, where he was shown in.

Letters from the past

There, dressed and smiling, sat Lady Mafalda with letters in hand and three maidservants in attendance – who promptly left as Matteo entered.

Eyeing him for a moment, Nonna said, “There you are, my grandson, you are the sun that warms my failing heart.” Beckoning, her fingers encouraging him to approach with an inward, cupping motion, she said in mock exasperation, rolling her eyes, “All this fuss over an old woman! All Italy is sending well wishes.”

Glancing at the table beside her filled with a small mountain of opened letters, he nodded, saying, “Nonna, you are beloved by many.”

“Hrumph!” she grunted, “Perhaps by some, the chiefest among them you, but, alas, most who truly loved me have long since passed. Come, Matteo” gesturing again, “sit with me, grandson.”

Pulling up a chair and sitting next to her, he smiled, never able to hold a grudge against the indomitable old woman. Leaning slightly towards him, she said, “I haven’t heard from most of these well wishers for well over a quarter century. Too bad I have to be at death’s door to be noticed anymore!” With a faraway look, as if she flipped back through the dusty portfolio of her life, the grand dame said, “I remember a time when all Italy was at my feet and every eligible bachelor – and half their fathers – wanted me in their arms.”

With a wistful look, she grinned fiendishly as she leaned in still further, saying, “And many were not disappointed!”

Nonna! Please!

“Nonna! Please!” Matteo said, wagging his head, as if to shake something out.

She laughed, saying, “My boy, memories are all you have when you get to be my age and, take it from me, the spicier the better!”

Desperately trying to change the subject, he asked, “How are you feeling today?”

“Better, my boy, better. But this dusty old home is killing me, I need fresh air!” Looking at him steadfastly, she said, “I have a great favor to ask of you, my little Matteo.”

“Anything Nonna, anything at all.”

Patting his hand, she said, “I want to visit some of the places of my youth one last time, Matteo, and I want you to accompany me.”

“But, Nonna, are you well enough to be outside so soon?”

“Of course I am, but let’s not rush it. My physician will needlessly fuss over me if I do. He is such a dreary man,” she said, brows furrowed and mouth pursed. “I’ll wait until next week, just to be sure he thinks I am well enough. Then you and I will visit my life and I will tell you such stories,” she chuckled.

What’s the old crow up to now? Matteo wondered, hearing himself answer, “Yes Nonna, I’d love to escort you.”

Unveiling at Karnak

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

The party at the Royal Harem, now in full swing, fell somewhere midway between a stylish banquet and a country pub. Bren sampled many foods, carrying and nibbling on some fresh flat bread she’d found especially delicious. Constantly pulled aside to meet this or that friend of someone she’d spoken to already, she gently ricocheted through the crowd, never knowing whom she’d be introduced to next. As a royal wife, everyone treated her with great respect, especially from lands beyond, hoping, she mused, to garner some favor in Pharaoh’s court. Many, even more convinced she was Hathor incarnate, stopped slightly short of worshiping her, having heard of her displeasure at such open displays. However, Bren saw the longing in their eyes, the hope and desperation that made them eager to be near her.

“There you are! I’ve been looking for you everywhere, my legs will surely be sore tomorrow!” Maskia exclaimed as she handed Brenzel a golden-rimmed cup.

“Thank you, Maskia,” Bren said, “but I’ve had enough beer for tonight.”

Smiling, Maskia said in a most peculiar manner, “Dear, this isn’t beer, it’s something much, much better.”

Curious, smelling it as she lifted the cup to her lips, Brenzel exclaimed, “Wine!”

Wine of the Blue Lotus

blue lotus

Senenmut’s wife added, “Not just any wine, Bren,” leaning close to her ear, lips almost touching her right lobe, “the wine of the blue lotus!”

For a moment, Bren felt like kissing her. Looking deep into her eyes, she sipped a little. Yes, tis a sweet wine, she thought as she tasted more. A warm feeling made it’s way down into her belly, then spread pleasingly outward to her legs, chest, and arms. She mumbled, as she drank more, “This is delicious.”

Maskia took her arm and said with satisfaction, “Come dear, there’s more where that came from.”

Walking through the crowd, holding up their cups, they came to the jars, where she’d seen everyone drop the blue flowers earlier, servants filling cups as people came to replenish. One, upon seeing her, topped her up even before she asked. Bren, looking out over her cup as she drank more, reached out and touched his shoulder, saying, “Thank you dear!”

A feeling of deep peace enveloped Brenzel as she walked with Senenmut’s wife. She’d not felt that peace since being a young girl helping her mother make the evening meals. That same concord used to fill that little kitchen, as her mother cut vegetables. Finally able to face her mother’s memory, she began to hum their special song, which her mother, Kyleigh, and her used to sing in Gaelic.

The song of Hathor

As if it were yesterday, she began singing softly to herself. Without hardly realizing it, the words and melody trilled over her tongue, swelling like the surf through the people. Singing in Gaelic, the words rolled,

Bí Thusa mo shúile a
Rí mhór na ndúil
Líon thusa mo bheatha mo
Chéadfaí ‘s mo stuaim
Bí thusa i m’aigne
Gach oiche ‘s gach lá
Im chodladh no im dhúiseacht
Líon mé le do grá”

A most peculiar thing happened that night in Hatshepsut’s kingdom, a thing which had never happened in Egypt as long as the sun had risen upon it. Bren’s strong alto voice rose in the ancient tongue, until everyone heard the song in their native language, as if composed by one of their own.

Bren continued to the second verse, those standing far hearing her voice ring clear and true, as if they stood near. She walked slowly among the people, laying her hands on children’s heads, caressing cheeks of slaves, and hugging nobles alike as she looked into their eyes.

“Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

A little closer

Hands reached for other hands, people who sat near each other edged a little closer, fingers clasped together, and children hugged. Everyone became silent, some looking around, trying to find the source of the music, for now something like low strings sounded everywhere, supporting her song. So deep, the music seemed to come from the very ground beneath them.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;

Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

All over Karnak, people woke in the night, hearing the strange, haunting music from the direction of the Royal Harem. Moving to their terraces and porches, everyone sensed the Divine was near. Senenmut, waking from a deep sleep, heard Bren’s song in the dialect of his childhood village. Tears coming to his eyes, his hands rose up in worship.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

The dance of Hathor

As she finished, enraptured and forgetting herself, Bren danced and twirled to a heavenly choir of angelic voices, accompanied by unseen musicians. Sara one and Sara two, drawn to her, joined her dance, as people gave them room, making a circle, crowding in behind each another to see the sight. One white and two black women flowed as one, dancing to the music all heard and felt. Perfect unity, rebirth and fulfillment emanated in waves from their movements, causing all to sway, transfixed by the spectacle before them. Even animals quieted as unity spread throughout Karnak.

Retreating from the latticed window to her chamber, Hatshepsut shut out her servants, then wept, holding her heart and rocking back and forth on her perfumed bed. All the years of pain, fear and longing burst forth like a flood from her eyes as she felt God’s presence. The words of comfort wafted through her subjects in the Harem’s courtyard, drifting in through her window, settling over her like a warm blanket of love. Is this what Senenmut talks about? she thought, wiping tears from her eyes.

Never in my life!

After Bren and the Saras stopped dancing, and the rapturous feeling began to ebb into a pleasant, comforting oneness among the crowd, Phaidra came up, hugging and kissing all three of them. As her lips pressed Bren’s, she lingered, looking into her friend’s face. “That was amazing!” she said, “Maskia, have you ever seen such a thing?”

Giggling, hanging on Phaidra’s shoulders, Maskia said, as she caressed Bren’s cheek, “No, never in my life!”

Bren took the two Sara’s into her arms, hugging them tightly. The Sara’s wept, overcome with the emotion of feeling God’s presence in the dance. Bren, looking at them both, felt completely at ease, saying, “I love you.”

Mounting the platform together where Senenmut had spoken, they drew chairs close and sat, looking at the crowd of people loving one another. Studying those below them closely, Bren noted that even though many were loving towards one another, nothing felt out of place or crude. People hugged and kissed, holding each other as tenderly as a mother or father cherishing their infant. In fact, Bren wanted to be close to them all too; the closer the better.

Heavenly Choir

I feel good, Bren thought, as she sat with the two Saras, Phaidra, and Maskia. Glacing up, she commented absently, “Oh that’s nice, an angel! He’s so handsome!”

Indeed, across the way, up above one of the porticoes, a man dressed in white, with two large wings at his back side, stood motionless. “What’s an angel, Bren?” Phaidra asked, looking toward the direction in which Brenzel gazed.

“A messenger from God,” Bren said sleepily.

“Which god?


“I can’t see it,” Phaidra said, making a pouty face.

“I’m sorry,” Bren said absently. “I’m tired, please put me to bed,” she said, lying her head on Maskia and snuggling close.

“Yes, dear,” the head wife said, “I think you’ve had enough fun for one day.”

“I love you,” Bren said, squeezing her arm. Beginning to snore, Bren’s head slipped off her friend’s shoulder, waking her up again. She was so very tired.

The Harem began to slumber as guests found their quarters or simply fell asleep in each others’ arms or in random piles of people.

The watcher on the wall

Above, on the wall, the man in white turned to leave, looking up at the cloud forming in the sky. I marvel at the mystery of it all, Gabriel mused, trying to fathom his Master’s plans and purposes. Over the eons he’d pieced together quite a bit, but still the, “how” stubbornly eluded him. Wings unfolding, in one powerful thrust, he lifted heavenward, disappearing into the cloud.

A deep sleep

Having fallen asleep again, waking up to use his private privy, thinking it had all been a dream, Pharaoh’s vizier reached for the small lamp which burned steadily at his bedside. Looking over, he saw that Maskia had not yet come from the festivities. No matter, sometimes these things went on all night and even until dawn. Slipping on his sandals, he shuffled carefully through the near-darkness of his quarters, carefully stepping over the small raised lip to his private wash area and privy.

In the dim lamp light, two small black eyes raised up as it’s hood fanned out, reptilian tongue flicking, fanged mouth hissing menacingly. Instinctively, Senenmut jumped backwards, yelled out, lamp crashing to the floor, then everything went black.

Bren, waking up suddenly between the two Saras, yelled out, “Senenmut!” as an anguished wail rose from across the palace courtyards, like a jagged knife rending curtain of the predawn glow.