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Into the night

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Feeling warm and happy, as the beer settled in, her spirit became oddly sharp and aware. Sensing people around her as she moved through the crowd, Bren sampled each person’s emotions almost like a buffet. Most felt sweet, relaxed, or innocent, while others seemed dark and anxious. Studying one gregarious woman conversing with an acrobat, Bren noticed that the lady’s spirit felt weak and desperate, quite the opposite of her confident manner.

Stopping to talk with people, Bren spoke in whatever native language they possessed. This both surprised and delighted each of them. Most were from Karnak, while others were from places as far off as Punt and Hattusas.

A man, seen from the corner of her eye, approached, saying in imperfect Egyptian, “Greetings, Brenzel, I am Hantili.”

Turning to look at the middle-aged man, she replied, “Greetings to you too, sir, you are from the Hittite nation?”

“Yes, you say rightly, I am from the great city Hattusas.” Studying her with surprise, he said, “You speak my language perfectly, I am honored,” bowing his head slight with respect. “How is that possible, even your accent is correct.”

Bren only smiled, sipping her bowl of beer.

Your celebration is most pleasing

Continuing, the man said as he looked about, “Your celebration is most pleasing. It is my first time in Egypt, I came as part of the delegation that arrived from Hatti last week.”

“I am pleased,” Bren said, almost giggling. She didn’t like what she sensed in him, but was too happy to care.

Stepping closer, looking into her eyes, he said, “I believe that Ishtar has a sister! You are a vision, no wonder your people venerate you. Have you met Arinna? She is the daughter of of Ašmu-nikal, a consort of our late king.”

“Yes sir, I have, we’ve spoken.” Bren commented cautiously.

Smiling, he put his arm around her shoulder saying, “There are many wonders in our great land. Should you ever have the pleasure of visiting us, it would be my honor to escort you.”

“Yes, of course. Thank you,” she said, bowing out of his embrace, melting into the crowd.

Fool!

From near a pillar, Arinna watched, infuriated.

Fool! she thought, as she looked at the spot in the crowd where Brenzel disappeared. Arinna knew full well that Egyptians thought of her people as little more than unwashed heathen, no need to confirm it! Besides, that golden hair slave is nothing, why pay attention to her at all?

Moving quickly over to the musicians, whispering something in a drummer’s ear during a lull between songs, she made her way before Senenmut’s raised chair and stood facing the people, arms at her sides as the drummer beat out a loud, thud thud thud, commanding attention. Then as people quieted, his hands alternately slapped, then caressed the tight animal skin that carried the beat. Soon, other musicians joined in, recognizing the song and beginning to play the traditional Hittite Ishtar (goddess of sensuality and war) dance.

All eyes focused on Arinna, head down. To the beat, her hips began to sway in exotic fashion, feet coming up to their toes, then down. Sensuality, erotic and base, began to pour out of her body, as her arms raised and torso moved like a serpent. Lifting her head, her dark eyes flashed, as she began to move about, belly twitching. Many, half drunk, began to copy her movements. The atmosphere in the Royal Harem changed as peoples thought’s turned towards each other. Women from the Hittite delegation joined her, gyrating in ecstatic sync. It was a familiar dance, performed in the temples of Ishtar, but unknown in Egypt. A presence seemed to infuse them, until their eyes glazed over as they moved to the beat of the music.

The knack for doing the wrong thing

Senenmut, gazing at the scene from his chair, disapproved, thinking, You always have the knack for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, Arinna, and tonight’s no exception. He could feel the mood change from relaxation to one of sexual tension and lust. Tiring of the spectacle, Pharaoh’s vizier excused himself for the evening.

As the women fell to their knees, bending back and shaking, Bren watched dispassionately. She felt no attraction to what was going on, no pull to join in. She looked up, noting that Senumut was gone. Bren had to admit that she liked Senenmut, dispute his multiple proclivities. He seemed an honorable family man, stern but caring. But bald? How did his wives get over that? Turning, Bren left the spectacle to find more beer.

Behind the Latticed window

Up above, sitting behind a latticed window, looking out upon the Harem courtyard, Hatshepsut studied the party carefully. A female servant approached, asking if Pharaoh desired food. Hatshepsut, fascinated by how the scene played out below, waved her off in silence. Arinna had advanced her piece through the dance of Ishtar, Senenmut acknowledged and withdrew in obvious displeasure. The tall blond did not engage – why? Beckoning her servant and pointing, the girl brought her favorite snack, handing her a small bowl of ripe green grapes. Popping one in her mouth she mused, Senenmut called me urgently, therefore there is something he must say to me personally that cannot wait. Does it concern this Brenzel?

Outside the Royal Harem, palace guards, several hundred of them, stood ready in silence as the festivities continued inside unaware that Pharaoh was in the great house. The game is set, now what is the next move? Egypt’s ruler wondered as she ate another grape.

Is she well, Sire?

(Vatican City, 1690)

“Is the lady Mafalda well?” Pietro inquired cautiously, as his master walked in the room, sitting down heavily on the chair across from the window in his suite.

Looking out sullenly for a moment, Matteo muttered, “She will out-live us all.”

Pietro, sensing the unease of his master, bowed, asking, “Is there anything my sire desires?” Prince Imperiali, still gazing out onto the courtyard, said nothing, only waved his hand, dismissively.

Tim’s outlook on life

After the birth of his son, Tim’s outlook on life changed. God had answered, in a most certain fashion, his heartfelt prayer. Indeed, his son continued to prosper and grow fat at his mother’s breast. Once or twice, Tim noticed Cardinal Jenkins studying him when his protégée appeared preoccupied. Tim found that, far from being a distraction, his own considerable intelligence and industry were precisely focused on carrying out whatever Her Majesty or Jenkins decreed, knowing his family’s lives depended on it.

Commanding the legions of The Order with ruthless efficiency all learned that to disobey Tim’s order met with the harshest consequences. Fearful of the big monk, no one dared cross him. Those who did risked loss of wealth, lands, position, or even their lives. Yet, for all the dread Cardinal Lambert invoked, he never ordered the death of another of their family, unless directly associated with a crime against The Order.

Fortunately, Beauty preferred always to communicate by writing. Her letters, sometimes two or three a day, carried instructions and judgments. Instructions about how she wished to proceed in every area The Order controlled, and who should be judged or spared. At first, Tim’s hands trembled as he opened her missives, for Cardinal Jenkins now delegated that task to him exclusively. With time, though, Tim learned that as long as her orders were followed to the letter, if natural circumstances precluded their fulfillment, she rarely reacted harshly.

Mashed potato

Fiammetta held little Nico as he fussed, refusing to nurse today, preferring the mashed potato Maria had offered him. Her breasts full, Fia tried again until he latched on.

“There’s my good boy,” she said, feeling relief.

Maria sat near, smiling at the infant and mother, the older boys with the other maid in the adjacent room.

“Maria, let’s not push him too fast on solid food. I felt like I would burst.”

Looking at her mistress with a knowing expression, Maria nodded, “I know Fiammetta, but I so want him to grow big and strong.”

Then she asked, “Will Father Lambert join us this evening at dinner?”

“I don’t know, he didn’t say.”

Reaching for her arm, Maria said, “Fiammetta, please do not be upset, but I must tell you something.”

Looking at her maid with surprise, she asked, “What is it?”

“Prince Imperialli has come.”

“What!?” eyes suddenly flashing with anger, “why is he here!?”

“I inquired and found out that his Grandmother, Mafalda, was ill.”

“I see,” Fia said as she switched breasts, hoping Nico wouldn’t fall asleep, his little hands kneading her as he fed.

The question of Matteo

It had been months since she’d concerned herself with the question of Matteo. Of course she hated him, but not as murderously as at the beginning. Understanding the necessity of the situation, she resigned herself to that state of affairs as long as he stayed very, very far away. Besides, murder would be complicated.

“I do not like Mafalda, Maria, the fruit does not fall far from her tree. She’s even more insufferable than her grandson!” Maria, grimaced and nodded. “Whoever has told you this, give them a ducat and ask them to keep you informed.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Maria said, taking Nico from Fia’s arms, the child now fast asleep.

A light in the darkness

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Walking down the corridor, Senenmut felt his age. Fifty-two is a good old age for anyone, I bless my maker, he thought as his shoulders ached. Two guards trailed a respectful distance behind. Entering into a secret door behind his quarters, which bypassed the family’s other dwellings, he closed the it as the sentries took up their watch for the night.

No, I don’t believe Brenzel is Hathor, I don’t believe in Hathor, Senenmut thought. The newest wife of Pharaoh was nothing like the drunken, blood-thirsty goddess, Hathor, those pompus priests worshiped at Dendera – except for her beauty. But… she is something unexpected. The old vizier took off his jewelry and other insignia of office, laying them on the table near a beautifully made, golden, seven-stemmed candlestick, which he lit as he sat down and prayed. Bowing his head, clasping his hands together, he ask earnestly for the safety of his family. He also petitioned for the safety of Egypt, and most of all for his beloved Hatshepsut – just as Bina had taught him to do.

Which God?

His vast shift in religious viewpoint was initiated many years ago by a vivid dream. In it, he stood in a covered place before a larger version of the candlestick sitting on his table. He looked at the flames, each a different color of the rainbow. For years after that night vision, he’d searched through the gods of Egypt to find truth, but found none that could satisfy his longing.

Finally, after meeting Bina, a Hebrew sold to Hatshepsut as a slave, he told her of his dream one night and asked her what she thought it meant. She said she did not know, but it sounded like God was speaking. “Which God?” he had asked, exasperated, “there are so many!”

“No, my love,” she said softly, “there is only one true God.”

Senenmut’s prayer

Tonight, as he finished writing Senenmut prayed,

“YHWH, you are God and I worship only you. You alone are worthy. I do not know what Brenzel is, but if she is your servant, protect and keep her. If she is not, then I ask that You protect and keep us from her.”

A deep peace settled over him as he finished, descending like a divine blanket from heaven tucking a child in before sleep. It was a feeling Senenmut knew very well.

SEOIB.