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The Blue Flower

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

As the sun lowered in the sky, the royal wives, Maskia, Phaidra, Ebonee, Bina, pregnant Peleset, and Zarmandukht, greeted Bren at the large entryway, between the two great statues. Bina stepped forward, placing a wreath of flowers on her head.

“I told you,” Maskia said to the others. “Isn’t she a vision of, ah…a vision!” The rest joined in, commenting on how beautiful she looked while welcoming her warmly. Then, collectively, her small cadre threaded their way through the crowd and around the great center pool, as they all moved towards the back of the inner court.

As people saw them approach, many bowed low, faces to the floor, just as they had done at the slave auction when they realized pharaoh’s presence. Many exclaimed, “Hathor,” softly as they pressed their foreheads to the ground, showing obeisance, their hands and arms outstretched towards her, each with a blue flower in their fingers. Why the blue flower, Bren wondered to herself. That same overpowering feeling of worship made Bren feel uncomfortable again as she stepped carefully between them and their blooms. Realizing their absolute devotion, Bren thought, No wonder YHWH’s jealous of false gods.

Exotic

Bren’s idea of a celebration included no more than a few friends and some scones, but this Egyptian gala measured on a different scale altogether. The columns round about the rectangular courtyard, while brightly colored themselves, stood draped with different colored hanging tapestries and ribbons. Flowers, strung together in a profusion of color, reminded Bren of the gardens of Fabulous, in Elysia. The food, incense, and gaiety of the packed crowd caused Bren to feel elated and expectant too.

“Excuse me,” Bina said politely to one dark skinned lady who turned, looking at them for a moment. Bren, couldn’t help but stare. Her wig, woven of black hair, ended in gold-metal tassels which framed her exotic face. Pupils light brown, each of her almond shaped eyes was highlighted by blue and gold with the “eye of Horus” drawn under one. Her full lips, glistened slightly parted with gold lip rogue making her seem more like a living doll than a person. After scrutinizing Bren also, she bowed her head low, stepping to the side graciously. On top of her wig, a small scented cone lay, pungently fragrant. Afterwards, Bren noticed that most of the women at the party wore something similar on their heads, too.

The sunset glow of the red orb began sinking below the eastern hills, flooding everyone and everything with a soft warmth, radiating sensuality. Like a sleeping leopard, Bren sensed fury was possible, but everything seemed calm and beautiful tonight.

At first glance

At first glance, it appeared that everyone in the Harem had been invited, plus three times that number again. All seemed happy and, if she hadn’t know better, there seemed, at least for this night, no division between slaves and masters. In fact, Bren had to admit, her negative views of slavery were slowly changing over time and through experience. True, sometimes there was cruelty, but being owned by someone had very different connotations in Egypt than her native England. Those who counted themselves the most menial servants were treated and respected better than she had ever been while working at the inn so long ago.

Along the way to the back, their little procession passed Arinna, Theokleia, Shardana and Weshesh – political wives, hold overs from Hatshepsut’s father’s reign. They bowed their heads respectfully, but their whole manner suggested far less enthusiasm for the day’s festivities than those around them. She’d met Arinna and Theokleia previously, but the other two she knew only by reputation. Both tall, beautiful women with classic features, they remained mostly aloof in the Harem, preferring only the company of the other women of their stature. Scuttlebutt was that Arinna and Weshesh didn’t care for Senenmut and that Senenmut cared even less for them. They looked down upon him as a low born who had snaked his way next to royalty, not rightfully born to it, as they were.

The young children of the great house ran and played excitedly, mostly unclothed, weaving their games through the large crowd. The smell of many different foods cooking competed for attention. Some places garlic and onions dominated, while in others, coriander, cumin, and dill ruled decidedly. Women laid out dishes on tables to the sides of the courtyard, pouring drinks constantly, mostly beer, from slim clay jars for guests. Pale amber in color, Egyptian beer tasted lighter and sweeter than ale at the inn where Bren used to work. People sipped it with straws from earthen bowls to avoid malt that sometimes floated to the top. Bren liked it though – it seemed to go with Egypt very well.

The girls

Rounding the corner of the pool and palm trees, they came to the back where, on a raised platform, with columns on the corners, Senenmut stood as they approached. His chair sat slightly higher than the rest, flanked by two ornate chairs at each side, while seven chairs fanned out in a semi-circle facing outwards towards the people. Stringed flowers draped the sides, flowing down to the stone floors.

To the right, musicians play strange, haunting music. She’d heard it before during her stay, but not nearly done as well. Three women, playing the main instruments, swayed to the music as four men beat out complex rhythms on odd-shaped drums. Bren felt her hips sway in time with them, feeling their spirits transparently.

As Senenmut stood, all quieted. Extending his hand towards Bren, she ascended and stood beside him as her escort took their places, three to the left and three to the right. Music quieted and changed, sounding appropriate for the moment.

Pharaoh’s Vizier, looking at Brenzel in all her finery, thought, “she cleans up well, no wonder people believe she’s Hathor, but…no…it couldn’t possibly be.”

Welcome the Royal House

In a loud voice, Senenmut proclaimed, “Welcome! We are pleased to see our friends, families, and all our esteemed friends. We also that those who make this festivity possible! Welcome all! As you know, we’re here to honor and embrace the newest member of our royal house! Join with me in welcoming Brenzel!”

Everyone clapped and cheered; some women uttering a high pitch, “ye, ye, ye!” Eyes moist, Bren looked out over the dense throng of well wishers, feeling their genuine acceptance and love.

“Brenzel,” Senenmut said, taking both her hands in his and looking directly into her eyes, “we are honored by your presence and we welcome you into our hearts. May you always find peace and joy in our house and obtain favor of the gods!”

Let the festivities begin! He said, flourishing his arms as music changed to a rousing dance melody, the children, completely uninhibited, led the way by dancing with abandon, swaying and looking into each other’s eyes. Many of the adults began to dance, too, as the party at Karnak now began in earnest. Even though the beer was flowing like a river, there was something majestic, even magical, that permeated all present. There seemed an innocence and unity surrounding her, something Bren hadn’t felt since the Last Great Day of the Seven Days of Wonder.

Oh my, that looks like it hurts!

Each of the royal women clasped her hands and said a personal welcome. As the senior wives stepped down from their perches, each nodded and said welcome, too, although with less sincerity than the others. Bren said, “thank you” and “pleased to meet you” to Shardana and Weshesh, complimenting them on their dresses.

Weshesh, a woman from Troy, lingered a moment longer, looking at her with interest. “You are… truly beautiful,” she said with wonder. “I have not seen your equal, except once in my homeland.” Tilting her head, she said, “In truth, wars have been fought over such a face. Some say… you are more than a woman. Is that so?”

Brenzel, looking at her steadfastly, replied, “Some say, but we are women who need nothing more than what God gave us to succeed, don’t you think?”

Taken aback slightly, she smiled efficiently saying, “Of course, such thoughts are foolishness.”

Warm beer

Bren relaxed as she walked around sampling different dishes, sipping her beer. A tingle began spreading over her as a deep sense of ordered freedom settled. There were not many men, except for some scantily-clad acrobats with their female components. Muscles rippling, they assisted their lady friends, equally as defined, in flips and all manner of contortions. One woman looking at her, smiling, bent backwards on her hands and feet, like an inverted bowl, causing Bren to exclaim, “Oh my, that looks like it hurts!” as the woman walked away crab-like, hair trailing behind her.

At another place, an ancient man sat on a large pillow in the corner, where many children and a few adults sat, telling a story of a shipwrecked sailor and his many adventures. The old man wove his tale about serpents, kings, and gods, with everyone exclaiming “oooo” and “ahhhh,” at proper intervals.

If you need a friend

Peleset stolled over, smiling, heavy with child, saying, “How are you doing Brenzel? I heard you had a long day.”

Bren, smiling back, for she liked her easy going charm, replied, “Yes, very, but this is all. . .just amazing. I am so honored, Peleset.” Then, Bren Looked at her quizzically, saying, “You know, don’t you…”

“Yes, I heard the tale. Everyone has, I think. I’m sorry, Maskia couldn’t keep it quiet, news of that nature can’t be kept long.”

“But,” Bren said, looking at her with eyes slightly raised, “It doesn’t seem to bother you…or at least you’re not treating me differently.”

Chuckling slightly, Peleset said, “Whatever you may be, Brenzel, I feel you are good and I trust my instincts, I always have.” Hugging her, she added, “If you ever want to talk to a friend, I’m here.”

Touched, Bren said, “Thank you, you don’t know how much that means to me. Thank you so much, Peleset.”

The wine of gratitude

It seemed even more musicians had either arrived, or ones not playing before joined in. The music changed yet again, and as if on cue, people stopped dancing and stood still. Each person held a blue flower liked Bren had seen in the pool the day before. Excitement permeated the atmosphere as servants carried big jars between poles on their shoulders, setting them down in long row before Senenmut, a servant standing behind each. Everyone filed past, tossing their flowers into the earthen vessels. When one was filled, the servant held their hands flat over the jar’s opening, and the blue blossoms would begin to fill the next. Finding Maskia, Bren asked, “What are they all doing?”

Grinning, Senenmut’s wife replied, “They are preparing the wine of the Blue Lotus for the night.”

“Wine?” Bren said with interest. “But, why the blue flowers?”

Putting her arm on Bren’s shoulder, her grin increasing and eyes gleaming, she said, “You’ll see.”

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