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(Karnak, Egypt, 1458 BC)

The air grew thick, like fine olive oil, as Bren, eyes closed, walked slowly towards the edge of the roof, facing the crowd below. As she came into view, the people quieted, murmuring as one, “Hathor, Hathor, Hathor.”

Hatty, looking after Brenzel, saw the strange ring of violet fire grow slightly larger above her head. Enraptured, Bren just stood there, toes inches from the ledge, over 40 feet above a vast sea of people, apparently without concern or fear for her own safety.

Anger subsiding, Bren felt like she was floating in time, kicking back through it, as one would glide through a warm summer’s pond. I feel them, each one of them, she thought. Opening her eyes, looking at the people prostrate and praying below, she saw them no longer as individuals, but as a single person. Instead of idolaters, she felt a strange feeling of compassion and understanding, like that of a parent towards an errant child.

You wanted this

Turning, extending her hand out towards Hatshepsut, she called her. Like a voice inside her mind, Hatty heard clearly, “Come to me; you wanted this.” Feeling exposed, in a flash, the female pharaoh scrolled back through all the times that she’d railed against the gods during temple duties, how she’d treated the holy things with contempt, sure that religion was a lie. This, however, was really happening, and before she realized it, her feet moved towards Bren.

Halfway there, Bren said again from within, “Do not fear me, no harm will come to you or your people.”

Hapu, garments still slightly wet, dared peek up as Pharaoh reached out and clasped the hand of the tall blond. For once in his life, the High Priest of Karnak had nothing to say, desperately wishing he was a roach entering a crack in the wall.

Wemi looked up, too, but saw the outline of magnificent wings in the sky. Feeling privileged to be present, his lips moved silently, saying, “I glorify you, my God.”

I know this feeling

At Bren’s gentle touch, Hatty’s apprehension vanished. That same secure feeling of her father, and later Senenmut, enveloped her. I know this feeling, she thought, realizing now that it must be God’s presence.

Sighing, stretching her arms above and out, Bren turned and said, “I feel really good.”

Inside, Hatty nodded in agreement as her belly moved.

Looking at the crowd below, Bren said to Hatty, “There are many.”

Hatshepsut, observing that the people had grown considerably more since their entrance, thought, yes, all Egypt is at your feet.

Gazing up at Bren, Hatty asked, “Will your God speak?”

Feeling full of His Spirit, Bren said, “Yes.”

White clouds above organized themselves into outlined sets of wings behind Bren as she began to speak.

From the reeds

“Rise.” Bren said. All rose. It was as if each person heard that command from directly in front of them, exactly as a close friend might speak.

Looking at her own arms faintly the color of lavender, Bren realized the halo must be back.

Sighing again, Brenzel said to the people,

“As it was in the beginning, so it is now. I sent my servant to you then, to speak my truth and to guide your ancestors in a time of great need. As you listened to Hathor then, so listen to her now.

“Behold, my servant, Joseph, saved Egypt and all the lands about it from a great famine. In gratitude, Pharaoh gave my children rest in Goshen. Since that time, by My hand your kingdom prospers for the kindness you showed Joseph’s people. Therefore, a sign is given to you: A child shall be drawn from the Nile. He shall be great among your people, yet he will be outcast. With my staff he will declare My word.”

People looked up at the vision which stood upon Hathor’s temple as the violet fire dimmed and the form in the clouds swirled, blending back together again.

We’ve heard God

“I’ve heard the voice of God!” one small, old woman said, finally breaking the silence in the crowd. At that, people wept, having felt the pleasure of God in their midst. Each one knew in their hearts the next year would be good, full of blessing and hope.

Bren, feeling released, took Hatshepsut and walked back to where the priests still bowed low. The sun, fully risen now, illuminated everything. Bren, seeing the idol still laying on the floor, said sternly to the priests, “Burn it.”

The high priest of Dendera looked shocked; nevertheless, he said, “Yes, your majesty.”

Then Bren commanded, “Open the temple’s granaries and feed the people before they travel home.”

Hatty, still holding her friend’s hand, asked, “Bren, what must I do?”

Coming back to herself, like a bird landing on a branch, she said, “I have a feeling. . . we should go back to your palace and find your Vizier.”

The big house

(Rome, 1692)

In the big house, always drafty within it’s thick stone walls, there was loud cough. Throwing off his covers the old physician dressed hurriedly and headed towards the sound of sickness.

Hand on the prince’s forehead, he felt the presence of fever. Though yesterday, he spoke only to what he knew, Matteo’s condition had turned, as he’d feared it might. Though a panic attack was rarely life threatening, being soaked by the cold rain during such an event could be.

Turning to his assistant, he said in measured tone, “Keep everyone out of here, especially Mafalda.”

There were many types of fever in Italy, some slight, some fearsome. Other than the black death, diverse fevers killed most. All one could do, aside from the apothecaries’ poultices, salves, and tinctures, (most of little use in these cases), was to make the ill person as comfortable as possible, allowing their own bodies to battle it out.

Over the years, this doctor was less and less prone to listen to the traditions of Galen and Avicenna, preferring his conclusions drawn from decades of experience. He kept his skepticism of standard medical dogma, however, to himself, lest others ridicule.

A realistic man

A man of science, Luigi Galvani realized from the prince’s look, it would get much worse before getting better. From morning to midnight, Matteo’s fever climbed higher as his cough deepened. Mafalda, like a mother bear kept from her cub, raged outside her grandson’s room, making everyone feel her misery.

“Where am I?” Matteo muttered, as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Opening his eyes briefly, looking at a picture on the wall, he saw it seem to melt and drip like warm wax from a candlestick. Lingering between heaven and hell, he felt unseen hands pulling at his clothes. Fingers clutched the covers of the bed; he shivered uncontrollably.

Mouth dry, he croaked, “Water.” Someone brought a cup to his lips. Trying to sip, he spit it out, as another wave of coughing racked his feverish frame.

“He’s burning up!” The physician cursed under his breath as he felt his forehead again. “Fight boy!” Galvani encouraged, gently squeezing his arm. “Your mind, your will to live, is of equal importance as anything my medicine can do – Fight!”

For Matteo, though, in fitful agony, fire searing his lungs as he labored to breathe, living seemed less and less desirable.

Bundle of white

Dante, sensing the distress of all those around him in the hall, fidgeted, moving incessantly around his mistress’ feet. As the door opened slightly, the old, tired man of medicine, looking grim, talked in low tones with Mafalda, doing his best to prepare her for the worst. “In my experience, madam, short of a miracle, most don’t survive such a severe fever.

Like a knife being slowly plunged into her heart, the pain of the thought of losing Matteo became unbearable. Feeling faint, the grand dam of the House Imperiali swooned, those around her rushing to catch her. In the panic of the moment, a small bundle of white slipped through the slightly open door, scampering over to where Matteo lay, arm draped over the side of the bed, and began to lick his hand.

Infernal mutt!

Rising to consciousnesses, the sick prince said, “Stop that, you infernal mutt!” However, Matteo lacked the strength to move his arm, and Dante kept right on licking. Irritated, and with the greatest of effort, the prince turned over to the other side, drawing his arm away. Dante, undeterred, ran around to the other side of Matteo’s narrow bed, jumping up and down. Looking down into the the furry face, he gazed at the friendly, expectant pup, and, surprisingly, said, “Good dog.” Mafalda’s pet yipped and yapped in agreement, spinning around in small circles.

Awash in sweat, Matteo’s body felt soaked all over. Calling out, he commanded weakly, “Bring me water.” With no one answering, he said firmly and with rancor, “BRING. . . ME. . . WATER!” One of the physician’s attendants, hearing their patient from the hall, broke off, and seeing the prince struggling to sit up on his elbows, fetched water, propping him up afterwards with pillows.

Dante stays

After Mafalda rested comfortably, the doctor came back in, and seeing his charge fully awake, felt his pulse and forehead, declaring, “Thank God, it’s broken.”

Dante, still running around everyone’s feet, fussed to make himself known, causing the doctor to say angrily, “Get that damned dog out of here!”

“No,” Matteo said weakly, “Dante stays.”