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Ma’at

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

It had been nearly two weeks since the death of her beloved Senenmut, and the month of Tut, the first month of the Egyptian new year, fast approached. Though Hatshepsut’s heart beat in her chest still, it felt as cold as stone. Nevertheless, the machinery of state creaked slowly onward filled with Ma’at (good governance) that was the hallmark of Egyptian civilization. Visiting each one of Senenmut’s widows and their children, Hatshepsut wept with them, talked about their future, and found some small comfort in their presence. The young ones, only knowing the small lady as Aunt Hatty, clung to her like chicks in a storm, sensing her strength, seeking to be under her wings.

Today, during the morning rituals, Hatshepsut felt spent. After hours of preparation, in the secret recesses of the Karnak temple, she ceremonially woke the stone likeness of Amon-Ra from his sleep of death. The wife of god had heard the chanting of the priests and Sistra thousands of times before, but today they seemed particularly irritating. Though she hadn’t gone completely rogue like Senenmut, who became a believer in YHWH, still she despised the Egyptian pantheon as merely a tool of state; empty – devoid of any supernatural significance. To Hatshepsut, the statue of Amon-Ra, about 18 inches tall, with an overly large phallus, was just a piece of stone.

Religious apparatus

Standing before the revealed deity, her anger surged within her, like storm-driven waves crashing upon rocks. What was it all for other than to dupe a civilization into docile obedience? The offerings, the best of everything Egypt had to give, lay all around the room, so the “substance” of it could nourish Amon’s image into rebirth each morning, afterwards to be consumed greedily by portly chief priests and their returnee.

Though she understood religion’s usefulness, without Senenmut by her side, it all seemed empty. It was his love, his strong arms which held her in secret, that brought meaning to their public accomplishments. Together, they used the temple system for good, creating work and prosperity for their people, keeping them employed and fed. They’d organized wildly successful trade missions to Punt and beyond, bringing great wealth and prestige to their land. In large part there had been peace in their borders, as together they built up the military; now led by her nephew, Thutmose III.

Finishing the incantation, Hatshepsut, the wife of god, high priestess of the vast Karnak temple complex, abruptly turned and walked out of the dimly lit room, through two massive doors. Passing priests, she walked back into the light of the outer temple, saying to herself, I cannot exist in darkness, I must get out among my people as see the truth for myself.

Thrust into power

Thrust into power in her early teens by the death of her brother/husband Thutmose II, Hatshepsut seemed born to rule. Her deceased husband’s son by another wife, barely 2 years old, was rightfully Pharaoh, yet it would be many years before he could bear such a burden. According to custom of divine blood line, Hatshepsut would be regent in his place until the toddler came of age.

The favorite of her father, the great Thutmose I, his eldest daughter Hatshepsut, which means “foremost among women,” strove to honor his loving memory through preserving his empire. Contrary to expectations, the young monarch showed exceptional talent, and people around her agreed – most people that is – that she ruled well.

Alighting from her palanquin, the female pharaoh commanded, “Bring my advisors and the chief priests to the throne room. Have everything ready by noon day.” Looking again at her trusted secretary, she motioned her closer, asking quietly, “Has he arrived as expected?”

“Yes, Pharaoh,” the lady confirmed.

“Good,” Hatshepsut said, hand on the parchment tucked in her bosom. She watched for a moment as her servant bowed and hurried away. Turning to another, the captain of the palace guard, she said, “Bring me the one called “Brenzel.”

“Yes, Pharaoh,” the big man said, turning to go, when Hatshepsut added,

“Also – put her in irons, but do not harm her. Send her in first, before the others.”

Memories of Mafalda

(Rome, 1690)

The morning, fair and pleasant, watched as the horse drawn carriage clattered slowly over the stone streets of Rome. Mafalda, petting Dolce, narrated story after story of her life to Matteo as they clip clopped from one memory to another. Gradually, her grandson understood his Nonna in a different light, seeing her not as the indomitable grand dam, but as a young woman full of hope, struggling to find her place in the world.

“And that’s the tavern where I met the love of my life.”

Matteo, seeing the commonness of the establishment, asked, “How did you even get into there without being noticed? Weren’t you followed by Borghese guards? How did you avoid scandal?”

Smiling with her craggy face, she confided, “I bribed one of my house girls to dress up like me and pretend to go to bed. Then I put on her clothes and slipped out the back way with one of the staff. We looked remarkably similar, and no one noticed. Another of our maids, Annette, took me to the tavern and showed me real life! Oh Matteo, I danced and flirted many a night away in that place!

“One evening, I met a handsome young man, who asked me to dance. After we finished, I sat and drank wine as his blue eyes looked deeply into mine. We talked the night away.” Laying her hand on her grandson, she said, “No one ever talked to me as a real person, but he did. After that night, we met every Tuesday, as we could, and when I didn’t see him, I found my heart sank. You see, I was falling in love with him and I didn’t know it. The next time he came, when he would enter the room, my heart would leap like a startled deer.”

What happened?

Looking at his Nonna, he felt for her, reminiscing of a life long past, living on memories more than half a century old. Yet, he admired the fact that she had lived and loved.

“What happened?” he asked. “Surely, it did not last.”

Looking at Matteo, Mafalda said, “Oh, but it did.”

“How?”

“One night, as we sat together in laughter, he suddenly became very serious. He took my hand in his. I could barely breathe, I thought he might propose. Yet, his words began to crush me as he said, ‘We cannot see each other like this anymore…I am very sorry.’

“With my heart in my throat, I replied, ‘Why? Why not?’

“Looking down sheepishly, he confessed, ‘Mafalda, I…I’m not who you think I am.’

“Fear entering my heart, I said, ‘Oh my God! You’re married!’

“‘No, I am not, I am as single as you…but…’

“‘What then?!’ I demanded, feeling my life hung in the balance of his next words.

“I could see his heart was breaking, for as he explained, I learned he was from a great family of great wealth. He explained that though he loved me, his family would never let him marry a low born. He confessed, almost in tears, ‘If it was up to me, dear Mafalda, I would ask for your hand today. I am so sorry, these weeks have been the happiest in my life.’

“Suddenly, as I sat there, I realized he was doing the same as I: We were both imposters!

“After a moment, I realized what I must do. I withdrew my hand, dramatically, saying, ‘I understand. In another life, perhaps we could have been very happy,’ and I arose and left, barely able to handle the devastated look on his face.”

Masquerade

“So it ended badly, I’m so sorry Nonna,” Matteo said sympathetically, imagining two hearts meant for each other, torn apart by societies dictates.

“No, Matteo, it didn’t! I immediately secured a invitation to the next event at his family’s estate – the Imperialli estate – which happened to be a masquerade ball. When I arrived, I made inquiries as to his whereabouts, and found him standing in the corner of the ball room aimlessly chatting with some ladies. I approached, veiled behind a scarlet mask, saying, ‘My, you are a handsome devil’, and he recognized my voice immediately, saying, ‘You remind me of someone.’ You should have seen his face when I dropped the mask and he recognized me! Priceless! I tell you Matteo, priceless! Bowled over with emotion he exclaimed, ‘How can it be?’ I smiled, and said, my my name is Mafalda of the House Borghese, I’m at your service my Lord.’ The rest is, as they say, history.”

“You met my grandfather in a common pub!? So you were both seeking adventure among the common folk!” Looking at her with new respect, he said, “That’s so romantic!”

“Yes, he was the love of my life. You remind me very much of him, grandson.”

They both road in silence for awhile, Dolce barking at the odd dog they passed.

You life depends on it

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

The grandeur of Hatshepsut’s throne room made Bren feel even smaller than usual. Elysia had been on another scale altogether, yet it had none of the oppression that reigned in that place. Of course, these irons don’t help, Bren thought.

Eyes down, watching the stone floor as she progressed, Bren didn’t feel angry, just deeply concerned. Lord, I ask that you help me to help my friend. I don’t know your plan, but I trust you.

Pharaoh, scrutinizing a piece of parchment in her hand, looked up, seeing that the prisoner stood before her, saying, “Do you know why you are still alive?”

Alive? Bren thought, What the….! “No, Great Pharaoh.”

Holding up the note, she said, “This small papyrus is all that stands between you and the sword.” Rising, stepping down towards the tall blond, she said, studying her, “When I saw you at the market, I was intrigued. But now you’ve become a complication, perhaps even the reason for my Vizier’s death. A most convenient distraction at a time when I need to focus on important events. Why is that so?”

Bren, sensing no answer was needed, continued to study her feet.

“They say you are good with languages. Can you read this?!” she shouted as she thrust the note in front of Bren’s face.

After glancing at it, Bren said, “Great Pharaoh, it is personal!”

Eyes narrowing, jaw set, Hatshepsut said, “Yes it is… read it out loud if you can.”

As you command

“As you command, Great Pharaoh.”

Bren read slowly, carefully pronouncing the words as the awful truth dawned on her. The note read:

Beloved,

I miss you.

The one named Brenzel, that you purchased at the market, accuses Arinna of a plot against my life. At first, I did not believe her, but she knew of our proposed trip beyond the Cataracts. Only you, myself, and two of my most trusted advisers possessed that knowledge. My wives, Maskia and Phaidra, believe that she is Hathor, claiming to have seen a strange, violet light above her. I do not believe she is a goddess, but something in my spirit says we can trust her.

If, my love, something happens to me, the priesthood will offer their candidate for Vizier. Do not accept. Call upon the priest named Saa Menetnashté Sabah Khaldun Zuberi, at temple Edfu. I trust him with my life. More importantly, I trust him with your life.

In your embrace I am complete.

Love eternal,

Senenmut.”

I’m so sorry

Bren fell silent as she finished, suddenly realizing that Hatshepsut was Senenmut’s lover – his seventh wife. Bren, with great sorrow and feeling, looked up at Hatshepsut and said, “I didn’t know, I’m so sorry for your loss. He was a great man.”

Fire in her eyes, Pharaoh grabbed the note from Bren’s hands, returned to her throne, and sat, saying, “Unlike my vizier, I don’t believe in this Hebrew God. In fact, I don’t believe in anything but my reason.” Putting her fingertips together and leaning back, looking at Brenzel, she said ominously, “Tell me why I shouldn’t have you slain where you stand. How did you know about our journey up the Nile River? How did you foretell Senenmut would die?” Then, leaning forward and adding, with a slow, menacing growl, “Answer well, slave, your life depends on it.”

SEIOB.