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(Vatican, 1693)

Seeing the Eucharist situated between two lit candles, the unleavened bread and chalice of wine, Tim understood Jenkins’ reason for requesting his presence. He felt surreal that the boy, now a man, minister the holy sacrament to his elder. The old man wanted to take communion, and could not do so without unburdening his soul before God through a priest – but why now?

For a moment, cold Sunday mornings, so long ago, forced their way into his mind like a chilling wind through an open window. In Tim’s memory a small lad shivered in too little clothing, a wafer dry and tasteless in his mouth, wine, acrid smelling, burning slightly down his throat, kneeling before Cardinal Jenkins, receiving communion.

Autumn leaf

Holy communion never meant much to Tim then, it was merely necessary to avoid a beating, but today it seemed pregnant with meaning. His master, whom as a boy he feared and as a man he grudgingly revered, today seemed all too human, frail like dry autumn leaves about to blow away.

Drawing in a sharp breath, Tim glanced towards the door. That feeling! he thought as he discerned an unseen presence enter the room, similar to when God healed his infant son. The air seemed suddenly heavier, like bird perched on it.

Line of stress softening, heart calming within, Jenkins sighed, then stood up from behind his desk with some difficulty, moving sideways in front of his protege. Looking into the old Cardinal’s eyes, Timothy made the sign of the cross, saying, “Trust in God, Father, for He is merciful, and will not destroy thee, but will honor His promise to thee.”

Slim looked up at Tim, eyes brimming.

Removing a red pillow from a nearby chair, Timothy bent low, sliding it under Jenkins’ knees. The old man placed his hand on Tim’s broad shoulder to steady himself as he knelt down.

Touching his forehead, his chest, right, then left shoulder, Jenkins pressed his palms together, bowing his head, saying in a shaky voice, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Then, in a great flood of remorse, added, “It’s been over two centuries since my last confession…”

My God, No!

Several hours later, outside in the corridor, a maid swept the hallway as voices rose inside the Cardinal’s residence. Despite her better judgment, concern lured her closer, ears cocked towards the heated conversation. Words of anger rose higher and higher through the door, until she made out a man’s voice shouting, “My God! No! Stop!” Suddenly, there were sounds of a struggle, clanging metal on stone, then a cascade of thudding books falling from their shelves. Silence. Pressing her ear to wood, a faint smell of smoke began filtering through cracks in the door. Panicking, despite her fear of being found eavesdropping, the old maid banged loudly, saying, “Is everything alright?” Still no answer. Listening, hearing movement inside, she saw smoke pouring out from under the door at her feet. Banging again, with no answer, she launched full speed down the hall, screaming “Fire!”

The latch of the door clicked a few times, then unlocked, Tim staggering out, coughing violently, doubling over on the stone floor, a single book falling from his hands. Eyes watering, he rubbed them, lids suddenly sticky-wet. Forcing his eyes open, he stared down upon his red, blood-stained hands facing back at him. Letting out a guttural scream, turning, clutching at the door handle, he willed himself to stand, but the smell of burning flesh made him vomit violently. Standing again, Tim looked back into the room where roaring flames licked at the walls and ceiling, greedily devouring the ancient volumes on the fallen shelves. At the side where the candle fell during their struggle, barely visible through the conflagration, slumped Slim Jenkins’ dead body, still clutching the handle of the dagger in his chest.

Wiping his hands on his robes, Tim Lambert backed away from the smoke pouring out the door. Looking down the hall, seeing no one was there yet, he hurriedly pulled his vestments over his head, wadding them up, and tossed the bloody evidence into the burning room. Picking up Jenkins’ diary, he ran, cursing under his breath, Damn you, Father! You made me do this!

This is a bad idea

(Karnak, Egypt, 1458 BC)

Arriving outside the main entrance to the Karnak temple complex, Hatshepsut dismounted her palanquin and waited for Brenzel to climb down from hers. Coming to stand near her friend, Bren said, “I still think this is a bad idea.”

Earlier that morning, as they’d prepared together, Hatty explained why she must go to the temple. Standing there, looking at the small woman speak, Bren blurted, “They murdered you…um, I mean your double! Why give them another chance?”

Perusing the selection of jewelry, seemingly not to find anything to her liking, Hatshepsut said, “If I don’t go, I’ll lose credibility in the eyes of my people. It’s hard to explain, Bren, since you’re not born to it, but these matters are important in Egypt. As a female pharaoh, I’m also the wife of Amun-Ra, our most important god at Karnak. As his consort, I must act like it for the cosmos to function properly. All Egypt believes this, if I don’t continue the morning rituals, people fear our world will end.

And what does god’s wife do?

Rolling her eyes, as the women around her fitted the dress properly, Brenzel looked over her shoulder to where Hatty sat, saying with a wry smile, “and what does a god’s wife do?”

Nonchalantly, as she continued to refuse piece after piece, Hatty explained in detail the morning ritual. Bren, turning about as the girls followed her around she, exclaimed, eyes wide, “You can’t be serious!”

Hatty, finally settling on the green scarab ring, knowing 3 would like it, answered, “Why? Doesn’t your god make love to his wife?”

Sputtering, Brenzel managed to say, “But. . .you don’t…?”

Looking at the tall blond in consternation, as if relishing the moment, Hatty smiled, saying, “Don’t be silly, it’s all symbolic, even that.”

Relieved, Bren said, reddening a bit as her voice trailed off, “Of course, yeah, I..,I assumed that…”

Temple doors

Now, late in the morning, standing in front of the pylons of the main temple, two tall, pointed obelisks reached for the sky on either side, the captain of the royal guard approached. Behind him stood one thousand soldiers, which had accompanied them down the long row of crouching sphinx which lead to the temple. Kneeling before his monarch the captain of the guard waited patiently. Hatshepsut, in full Pharaonic regalia, motioned for him to stand and come closer. Bren heard her say, “I go to perform the morning ritual, if I do not return by mid-day, seize everyone in the temple and hold them until you find me or until Thutmose arrives. Slay anyone who resists, even the high priest.”

“Yes, my pharaoh,” the strong, well-built man answered.

With that, Hatshepsut and Brenzel moved towards the slowly opening massive temple doors, greeted immediately by a prostrate Hapu and his retinue, thanking the gods of Egypt for her presence. Standing, Hapu came towards Hatshepsut, eager to perform the morning ritual with her, as tradition demanded. Looking at his pinched face, Pharaoh said, “Amun-Ra’s servant, it has been long since my husband has been with me, we desire privacy.” Shocked, the thin man began to protest, but Hatty cut him short by saying sharply, “Mind yourself, Jackal, do not trust in this holy place to protect you. If my captain doesn’t see my face by noonday, you shall not live to see another dawn.” Face as hard as flint, she leaned in slightly further, “Or perhaps even if I am displeased.”

Duly chastised, Hapu and his entourage bowed low and backed away.

Smiling, looking up at Bren, taking her by the hand, Hatty said, “Now, come with me, it’s time for a ritual bath.”