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senenmut

Senenmut!

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Bren sprang up from her bedding, moving quickly towards the door, only to be met by two soldiers who abruptly forced it shut when she tried to push it open. Frustrated, she ran over to the window, saying, “Saras, help me!” as she tried to lift herself up and through the opening. Cupping their hands together, the two Saras boosted her until she teetered on the ledge, shifting her weight around, then dropped to the courtyard, running full tilt toward the old man’s quarters in her bare feet.

As she ran, shouts issued from behind, members of the palace guard chasing after her. Bren, having always been fast on her feet, outdistanced them easily, disappearing between the two statues into the inner court. Running around the pond, she angled over towards Senenmut’s quarters, only to be tackled by three men who guarded the entrance to the old vizier’s home. Screaming and kicking, she yelled, “Let go of me! Senenmut’s in danger!” Try as she might, she couldn’t break free.

You must control your anger!

One ripped part of her night dress, wrapping it around her head, trying to slide it into position to gag her. Bren bit and yelled in anguish – but she knew it was too late, realizing by the Spirit that Senenmut was dead. As her eyes flashed, the ground began to rumble as the guards, fearful, looked up from the struggling woman. Then a voice…The Voice spoke inside Bren, “You must control your anger!” Chastened, Bren began to relax, and the trembling subsided. She allowed the gag to be placed as tears welled up, rolling down her contorted face. Poor Senenmut! she thought What about Maskia and Phaidra and his other wives and oh God… the children?! Sorrow cut deeply through her soul, bringing that heartache of overwhelming loss which she knew only too well.

One of the men, battle hardened though he was, put two and two together, noting that the ominous rumble subsided when their captive relaxed. He said, “If you’ll be quiet, I’ll remove the gag.” Bren nodded, and the cloth was hastily untied as they brought her to her feet.

Next, a man of authority strode up quickly, demanding, “Who are you? Declare yourself!”

Bren, spitting out the bad taste in her mouth said, straightening up, “I am Brenzel, royal wife of Pharaoh, release me.”

“What are you doing out here?!” he demanded, hand on his sword hilt.

Bren said tearfully, “Senenmut is dead.”

Drawing his sword, he demanded, “How did you know that?!”

“God told me,” Brenzel declared.

Bruised and a mess

Deciding something, looking into her eyes and sensing the truth of her words, the man sheathed his weapon, saying, “If you be wife of Pharaoh, then you will have quarters.” Looking at the other men, he commanded, “Take her to her chambers, if no one vouches for her, bind her and bring her back to me.”

Bruised, hair and clothes a mess, Brenzel entered her room after one of the Saras told the soldiers who she was. The man commanded, “You must remain here. Do not try to leave.” The Saras, feeling waves of sadness wash over them too, as more wailing erupted from one part of the Harem to another, held Bren as she rocked back and forth, moaning.

As if she felt each one of Senenmut’s wives’ hearts breaking, Bren experienced the bitter anguish of his women as they mourned. All she could say, repeatedly, was, “He’s gone….he’s gone.”

Ships filled with soldiers cut through the early morning waters powered by strong oarsmen. Pulling in unison, feet secured by straps in the deck, their muscles rippled and strained as sweat poured down their faces, the row master driving them relentlessly. On land, horsemen galloped towards the garrisons to the east, west, north, and south. Men in battle armor filled the streets of Karnak, and those who dared come out of their homes were gruffly forced back in. Temples were shuttered and barricaded; the priests confined to their quarters. No one knew what was going on yet, but all feared an attack by invaders.

Beside herself

In her gilded cage, Hatshepsut, Egypt’s sovereign, wept. Death was common in Egypt, for many died in their prime, suddenly taken without notice, but that knowledge never made it any easier. Senenmut had always been there for her since her youth, standing like a rock in the midst of an ever-changing political sea, someone she could depend on in every storm. He loved her with all his heart, just as she had loved him deeply and completely, too.

After her first child, Neferure, Hatshepsut was barren, so there was no need to make it official. Though those close knew of their union, none would dare speak of it openly. Besides, keeping her public face “available” had certain political advantages. A true man, Senenmut understood her like no one else, allowing her to be impetuous, demanding, and even brilliant, yet speaking his mind plainly when she needed to hear it. He was the one man the headstrong Pharaoh respected and trusted.

Part of her stood beside herself watching the other half on her bed soak her pillows with her tears, writhing in pain, agony overtaking her small frame again and again. In a detached way, she pitied the poor soul pounding the pillows, the woman seemed so fragile, so alone in her room, longing for the comforting arms which could never hold her again. For a short while, and only for that long, she would allow herself to weep.

What news have you?

Stuffing the pain, Pharaoh came to herself in her chamber at the Royal Harem and rose, allowing her servants to bathe and dress her. Then, as her girls attended, Hatshepsut applied her make up. Lip rogue finally perfect, her puffy eyes heavily outlined in the almond shape so characteristic of high-born women, she walked out into the silent reception area, face forward and set. Standing between two great pillars, with two dozen of her most trusted palace guards at her side, she motioned forward the general of the Karnak garrison – the soldier having arrived only minutes before. Sitting down on her golden chair, she said, “What news have you?”

The weathered man knelt before his sovereign and said, in as much of a sympathetic voice as his years on the battlefield could muster, “It is reported, Pharaoh, that your vizier, Senenmut, is dead. I offer my deepest regrets of his passing, may Osiris be merciful.”

Looking at the man, she asked, without emotion, “Are we under attack?”

“No, great Pharaoh, not that we know of. There are no reports of invaders within our borders. We have secured all Karnak and the temples. Riders are making their way towards your nephew, the great Thutmose III.” Then he paused, seemingly at a loss for words.

Impatiently, Hatshepsut barked, “What else!”

“Reports are that Thutmose III is already on his way with his soldiers. He began marching towards Egypt three days ago. We do not know why.”

Unthinkable

A flicker of surprise registered in Hatsheput’s eyes, as she thought, No, not Thutmose! Betrayal? That’s unthinkable!

Pausing, questioning the circumstances hard, Pharaoh then ordered sharply, “Call upon every soldier you can find, bring them here to Karnak and outfit them from my armories. Station watchmen on the frontiers with riders at intervals. If any of our enemies cough, I want to know about it. Find out how long it will be until my nephew arrives and send word. When you find him, send my greetings and report back to me why he is returning.”

“Yes, Pharaoh.”

Rising, Pharaoh approached the kneeling man, bending low and saying quietly, “Serve me well in this and you and yours shall want for nothing.”

“Yes – my Pharaoh.”

Raising up, she finished with, “Send only those you trust with your life. Go now, let it be done swiftly.”

A great blow to us all

Turning back to face the captain of her palace guard, she said, “Take me to his quarters.”

“But, Pharaoh, it is too soon, we do not know who has done this thing. His body is still there! He has not been washed or purified. Besides, those who may be responsible – “

Walking in the direction of Senenmut’s domicile, she said, “Now.”

The head of the palace guard, reading her face, simply acceded, “As you command, Pharaoh.”

As the group neared Senenmut’s quarters, soldiers prostrated themselves as their ruler approached, though one rose to open the door leading to the dead man’s home. In morning’s light, it looked too cheerful to be the place of the great man’s demise. Everything looked so normal and well kept, flowers still fresh from the day before. Except for the presence of the palace guards, everything seemed oddly in place.

Entering into the bed chambers, Hatshepsut saw Maskia sitting on the bed between two guards, eyes swollen and red, still heaving slightly from sorrow and shock. Hatshepsut, moved with compassion, walked over, and sitting on the bed next to her, took Maskia into her arms. Barely noting her presence, Maskia finally said, face contorting, “He’s dead, Hatty, our Senenmut is gone! If I had only come to bed sooner, I might have…” as she fell into another gut wrenching agony of soul. The men in the room turned away to give them some semblance of privacy.

After awhile, moving Maskia’s disheveled hair aside, Hatshepsut said, “I am so sorry, this is a great blow to us all.” Maskia, face drawn and pale, eyes down, nodded.

The shell of the man

As instructed, the body of Senenmut lay exactly where he had fallen early that morning. As she looked upon him, Hatshepsut trembled, hardly able to control herself. The shell of the man, the only man she’d ever loved other than her father, Thutmose I, lay ashen on the floor, head in a pool of blood. Composing herself, she thought, My time of grief will come, for now I must be Pharaoh – I must know the truth.

Studying his position carefully, she noted he was on his back, with no sign of trying to catch himself. He must have fallen backwards. But why? The shards of a lamp lay on the floor next to him. Looking at the edge of the table stained red, her gaze went towards the wash area and privy. As she moved toward it, one of the soldiers protested, but she waved him aside, “Bring me more light!” she commanded. As she stepped into the small tiled room, she noted the raised lip, meant to keep any water from escaping. She turned, putting the heels of her own shoes against the raised edge, then looking backwards towards the body.

Why? she asked herself again.

The Privy

Hatshepsut surveyed the wash area, then looked into the privy. The hole on the floor stank as expected. “Take the torch and search the privy.”

“Yes, Pharaoh.” the guard said as he took the burning flame in with him. After a moment he said, “There is nothing, great Pharaoh.”

“Drop the torch into the hole and look!”

Looking puzzled, the big man did as he was told. As soon as the flame hit the bottom, it extinguished. “There’s nothing more than expected, great Pharaoh.”

The man came out of privy looking at Hatshepsut, awaiting further instructions.

Motionless for a moment

Gazing up at the air vent above the privy, Hatshepsut stood motionless for a moment, considering, then turned abruptly, saying, “Search every inch of the royal harem. Every inch! Even the royal wives’ quarters! There’s a traitor in our midst. Report anything out of the ordinary. Remove the children and wives to my palace and put them under double guard at once. Everyone else stays here until they have been questioned thoroughly. Anyone who tries to leave, bind them and bring them to me.” Looking one last time at Senenmut’s body, she added softly, “And call the priests to remove him.”

Coming back over to Maskia, she took her hands, bidding her to stand from where she sat on the bed, “For now, dear one, please come with me to the palace, this place of death is not safe.”

Nodding slightly, Senenmut’s love left with Pharaoh as the palace guard walked before and behind her, making room for the priests to enter and move Senenmut’s body.

Hidden evil

Motionless, two eyes watched the feet of the priests as they moved about and chanted, burning incense. The men waited patiently for the sun to go down over The Nile, for the ancient texts declared no one could move a dead body during the day. Too many, the reptilian brain thought slowly as it watched and waited. Finally, the necessary incantations performed, the four priests carefully wrapped the body, shifted it to a litter, then lifted it up and carried it out of the house, leaving the door slightly ajar.

In the ensuing quiet, after the priests left, a black scaly shape, sliding over itself, slowly uncoiled from under the bed, emerging into the darkness of the room. It raised it’s head higher and higher, swaying this way and that, looking for a way out. Hunger, it felt in its long, serpentine body. Seeing the sliver of light, the large Egyptian cobra made its way across the stone floor and through the slightly open door – deep into into the heart of the Royal Harem.

SEOIB.