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What’s the problem, Grandson?

(Karnak, Egypt, 1458 BC)

“Move!” the young man shouted. Face red with beads of sweat, he yanked on the rope with all his might, suddenly losing traction on the sandy road, falling on his rump. The old man, sitting atop the stubborn animal, gazed down at his grandson, seeing his younger self cursing. The donkey, head down, looked dumbly at the fallen boy, refusing to acknowledge his frustration.

“Grandson, what’s the problem?”

Against the backdrop of the predawn glow, the boy said, “Grandfather, this stupid donkey refuses to move!”

The old man, yellowed teeth and sporting a patchy beard face, craggy with years, answered, “Have you asked him nicely?”

The road where they had stopped was filled with moving people, more people than the young man had seen going to any new year event – ever! Men and women, young and old, filed past, carrying their bundles of travel, all intent on being at the Temple of Hathor for the first sunrise on the first day of the new year.

Getting up, dusting off the sand from his simple clothes, the boy exclaimed, “It’s only a donkey! It must obey! I’m his master!”

How does Pharaoh rule?

The old man, remembering similar perspectives of his own youth, said kindly, “Grandson, how does Pharaoh rule Egypt?”

“Through fear, everyone fears Pharaoh, so they do what is commanded!”

“It’s true, Pharaoh’s enemies fear, Grandson, and rightly so. But fear, as you can see, isn’t always effective. There is a better way.”

Scowling, tiring of the old man’s morning lecture, his grandson folded his arms, saying, “Then you show me how,” confident that there was no way to get that stubborn brute to move.

Reaching forward, the old man laid his hand to the donkey’s scruffy neck, then said, “Now try.”

Halfheartedly, the young man pulled on the rope, and the donkey moved forward.

“How…” face blank with astonishment, “how did you do that!?”

Grandpa, sitting back upright, said, “Get me to Dendera before sunrise, and afterwards I will enlighten you.”

Golden chariot

The golden chariot, drawn by two dark brown horses, rolled up beside where Hatshepsut and Brenzel stood. The steeds, smaller than the old plow horse Brenzel had grown up with, were decked out in elaborate harnesses, having their backs draped with embroidered blankets, depicting Pharaoh’s great deeds. Together, they drew a two-wheeled chariot fashioned of gold and silver.

“Bren, the driver will stand to my right and you will stand behind us.” Hatty explained. “It’s okay to hold my shoulder or the side rails as we drive. We will go slowly, though, I don’t think you’ll have much difficulty.” Bren, never having seen such a cart, just nodded slowly.

A soldier stood patiently by, as the Pharaoh finished inspecting the horses. Then turning to Bren, Hatty said, “Please wait here, my friend. We will leave soon.”

Stepping aside, Hatshepsut approached the soldier who bowed low, saying, “Great Pharaoh.”

Looking stern, she replied in a clipped voice, “What more troubles you?”

Bowing even lower, the man said, “Please, wise Pharaoh, reconsider. Let us accompany you through the crowd. It is very large and people are unpredictable.”

Face set, Hatshepsut said, “I understand, captain, but it’s a short distance, and no one is expecting me. It is risky, but I must do this. Besides, the driver is one of your best soldiers.”

Worry in his eyes, the man stood upright and said, “Then grant, Great Pharaoh, my men circle around to the front of the temple and be ready to assist if needed.”

Considering for a moment, she nodded, saying, “Do it carefully, go beyond the palms. As you say, we don’t know what mood they people are in.”

A spoon full of tincture

(Rome, 1690)

“Madam Imperialli, I believe he’ll recover fully,” the physician said, “from his manservant’s description, it’s most likely only a bad case of nerves.”

Mafalda looked at her beloved grandson, still concerned, saying, “Nothing more?”

“I cannot detect anything else, Madam, but he should rest here with you until morning. I will look in on him then. If you permit, I’ll lodge here for the evening in case he worsens, but I don’t expect it.”

Matteo, resting quietly, heard their words as if in a dream. The potion delivered from the spoon, a tincture with the strong taste of apple vinegar, was utterly vulgar, but did have a calming effect. Like a great clock, spring wound too tightly, he’d snapped, unraveling suddenly on that cobblestone road in the pouring rain.

Drifting off into deep sleep, Matteo felt something wet on his cheeks, like someone kissing him over and over.

“Dante! Leave Matteo alone! He is resting!” Mafalda whispered sternly.

The small white puff ball, her new precious animal, was really more of a pup than a dog. He scampered over to the grand dam of the House Imperialli, leaping at her dress until she lifted him. Still watching her grandson, Mafalda said to the old physician, “Let me know if anything changes.” Then, to her maid, she instructed, “Show him to his room.”

Turning, with Dante in her arms, she left.

Somewhat in the sand

(Karnak, Egypt, 1458 BC)

In the palm grove, Bren mounted the chariot, standing behind Hatshepsut in all her glory, as the golden wheels sank somewhat into the sand. Bren, too, was dressed in the finest Egyptian linen, draped loosely around her, girdled at her waist, with a necklace holding a large almond-shaped amethyst stone above her cleavage. Her hair, plaited and tied behind her head, long, curly locks in the forefront, made her look stunning. Ever since she’d partaken of the tree of life on Elysia, her hair shone with ever-increasing luster. Though she still saw herself as the barmaid of old, the truth was that she looked every bit the picture of an ancient goddess.

“It’s time,” Hatty said, as she pointed forward with her index finger.

At first the horses walked slowly, as the driver gently guided them with the long reigns draped over their backs. The bottom of the Egyptian cart swung slightly, smoothing out the bumps in the road. The light of dawn began to promise sunrise, as they cleared the oasis. Hand on Pharaoh’s shoulder, Bren hung on as the horses pulled the golden chariot up a small hill. The morning air chilled her slightly, causing goosebumps beneath her shear attire.

“Stop,” Hatshepsut said as she put her hand up.

Adoration

Beyond the small knoll, the words, “Hathor, Hathor, Hathor,” rumbled. A great sea of voices spoke in unison. Searching the horizon, Hatshepsut became motionless.

“What are we waiting for?” Bren whispered.

“Shush!” Hatty said through her her pursed lips. Bren quieted, goosebumps growing bigger when Pharaoh said, “Forward!”

Pharaoh’s horses, springing to life, trotted up and over the hill as the Temple of Dendera came into full view.

“Oh my God!” Bren said as she hung on to Hatty’s shoulder with one hand and the chariot’s winged rails with the other.

Before them a sea of people filled the large plaza, an immense crowd overflowing into the palms at the edges and beyond, all on their knees with arms outstretched towards Hathor’s Temple, chanting, “Hathor, Hathor, Hathor.”

More goosebumps

Goosebumps changed to a tingling sensation in Bren’s chest and belly. The air was charged with religious fervor, as Bren said, “Hatty, what are you doing?!”

Horses prancing, disturbed by the whole scene below, edged down the path as they whinnied. The strong man, reigns wrapped in hand, slapped their rumps repeatedly, coaxing them on, down the small slope and into the crowd. The sound became deafening as Pharaoh waded in. The worshipers closest turned, looking up, momentarily frozen in surprise at the horses and chariot, before backing away in awe, some shrieking in fear at the sight of Pharaoh. Like a ripple in a vast pond of humanity, Bren saw the seismic change in the atmosphere as more and more people saw them advance.

Seeing Bren, hand on Pharaoh as they passed, everyone chanted feverishly, “Hathor! Hathor! Hathor!” volume rising to a great thunder. As those in front gave way, those behind pressed in, surrounding the chariot and its occupants in a sea of pressed flesh. Shocked to see their dead Pharaoh, riding with one who could only be the great goddess Hathor, religious hysteria rose higher and higher as men and women alike exclaimed, “Pharaoh is alive again! Hathor brought her back – from the afterlife!” Fearful, the animals whinnied and pranced, near bolting, but with nowhere to go. Since the founding of Hathor’s temple at Dendera, had such things ever been?

Keep moving forward!

Hatty shouted, “Keep moving forward!” as the charioteer struggled to spur the frightened steeds onward.

Before the great columns of the Temple, Bren saw Pharaoh’s guards lining the front, spears up and shields ready. A wall of pilgrims pressing behind collectively gasped as they saw a violet halo once again appear above Bren’s blond head, moments before the chariot disappeared into the sanctuary. Guards closed the gap behind them, leveling their spears, keeping worshipers at bay. shouting, “Back! Back!” Women’s hands shook in ecstasy, while others writhed on the ground. Men, tears streaming from their eyes, faith exposed, shouted the name of their goddess incessantly, lost in the frenzied moment.

Underneath the temple’s inner columns, Bren looked up to at least seven stylized female faces with cow-like ears. Hieroglyphics decorated the walls and pillars, which all shimmered with a strange violet hue.

Follow me

Hatty commanded, “Follow me!” wheeling around to step off the chariot, then gasped as she looked a Bren. Holding the chariot’s rail, with wonder in her eyes, she said breathlessly, “What are you?” Then after a brief moment, asked respectfully, “Please, come with me.”

Without time to protest, Brenzel followed Hatty up a spiral staircase to the the top of the temple roof, where a great number of priests waited for the dawn. High Priest Hapu, fresh in from Karnak, arrayed in his best priestly attire, raised his hands to the dawn as the chief priest of Dendera began to welcome the new year. All present believed that as they unveiled Hathor’s image, and the wooden idol saw the sun rise, she would be pleased and bless the coming year with abundance, peace, and good fortune.

Master!

Sun cresting, the first rays of the golden orb brimmed over onto the veiled idol. Nodding imperceptibly, the senior priest signaled Hapu to unveil the goddess’ image, when, feeling a tug at his robe, Hapu stared down sternly at Wemi.

“Master!” The young man whispered loudly. The priest’s hand slapped the boy away with his stinging rebuke. Tugging again, red mark on his face, Wemi said, “Master! She’s here!”

“What?”

Golden rays traveled down the wall where Bren stood, light illuminating her face. Hapu turned, then stepped back in utter surprise, nearby priests steadying him, lest he fall to his death.

One by one the holy men turned, stared, then fell to their knees, hands outstretched towards Bren. The men holding the litter of the image, dropped it with a thud, the gilded idol rolling out on the floor. Outside, the noise of over a hundred thousand worshipers thundered, “Hathor! Hathor! Hathor!”

I thought we were friends!

Bren, standing next to Hatshepsut, felt the warmth of the new year’s sun descend on her face, highlighting her golden hair and angelic features. Unbeknownst to her, a violet wreath of fire circled brightly above her head as the amethyst stone sparkled in her bosom.

Looking at the priests, then to Hatty, and hearing the roar of the people outside, Bren raised her eyebrows, suddenly realizing, you used me! Feeling her anger rise, Bren said to Pharaoh, “You wanted people to see you with “Hathor”, didn’t you!?” Then with hurt in her yes, she said, “Hatty, I thought we were friends!”

Clear morning skies began churning with white wisps of vapor. Brenzel, looking at the fallen idol on the stone floor, declared sternly, “I am… not… Hathor! I am not a god!” Violet sparks crackling from her fingertips, the whole temple and grounds began to shake. Many priests, including Hapu, trembled so much they knelt in puddles of their own making. Bren looked at them with contempt, hating all that they stood for. Bren, face indignant, leaned in towards Hatshepsut’s left ear saying, “How could you do that my friend? You used me!”

You don’t know what is coming

Hatshepsut felt growing shame as regret fill her heart. Her plan all made so much sense yesterday; such a perfect way to regain control of everything, but now she felt dirty and small. To be seen with what people assumed to be Hathor, would make her seem a resurrected god herself, causing both the people and the priests to obey her slightest command. Truly, the strategy seemed a perfect, a powerful way to make a dramatic re-entrance from the afterlife, but it all felt so foolish now.

Over the temple complex at Dendera, clouds formed in the sky. The mass of humanity below, feeling the divine presence, pressed their faces to the ground, fearing to look up. Bren stood tall, looking out over them and declared to Hatshepsut, “You don’t know what is coming.”

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