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hatshepsut

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Hatshepsut rose before dawn from her perfumed bed, woken by sistra outside her chamber. She felt rested, despite her kingdom’s turmoil. An odd feeling of peace, one she didn’t understand, rested upon her as she prepared to bathe. As she unlocked the door, two of her trusted servant girls entered, one with scented bathing oils and the other with her clothes for the day’s activities.

Even before Hatshepsut rose to be Pharaoh, she was tasked with the office of high priestess of Amun, in the Karnak temple system. Throughout her time in that office as “god’s wife,” she’d experience many strange and disturbing things; yet what the blond-haired woman displayed yesterday, that was something different. Usually, when she felt the gods of Egypt during her sacred duties, her skin became cold and she shivered. Yet…yet, yesterday she felt comforted as if in the presence of someone she need not fear. It felt oddly like the security she experienced as a young child. Hatshepsut remembered feeling safe as she played, much to her father’s delight, around his throne, as his then vizier scowled and pretended not to notice.

Nobody does that

Feeling the sponge as young girls washed her, Hatshepsut tried to tease apart the mystery of the slave, Brenzel, who dared speak with such confidence before her. No one does that, nobody! Then why her? the brown-skinned Hatshepsut wondered. Though distasteful, as Pharaoh she sometimes found it unavoidable to execute the guilty for crimes which could not go unpunished. Death was simply a tool of state, useful to keep powerful men in check. More than once she’d observed the strongest become weak when they realized the possibility of their own demise. Yet this slave seemed not to care that Pharaoh held her life in her hands.

“No, the blue one. Yes, that one,” she said as she pointed to the dress laying to the side of the girl. As the servants offered different jewelry, she refused all but the simplest.

A shaft of light crawled down the opposite wall of the opened window in her chambers, as another set of women entered to apply her makeup. The whole process took more than an hour, as Hatshepsut still ciphered what was going on in Egypt. On one hand, Thutmose was less than three weeks from Karnak. A messenger had returned yesterday with news that it was a friendly march. Though she did not yet understand why he returned, at least he’d not turned against her.

The lioness goddess of war

The priests revealed their hand by seeking to install a vizier of their own choosing. The Hyksos and Hittites now breathed easier as her nephew marched home. Everything fit together in the unsettling jigsaw puzzle of her mind except…except the slave named Brenzel. The tall blond did not fit, no matter which way she turned her; no matter where she tried to place her.

Irresistibly, against every ounce of her formidable will power, Hatshepsut felt her heart ache within her chest. Her emotional bifurcation, which she’d learned to erect out of necessity, lay in shambles, like a breached fortress wall, as emotion poured in. It was over a week since her bright star had fallen, leaving her drifting alone in a sea of shifting interests, alliances, and ambitions. Senenmut always kept the priesthood in check, like a rudder on the celestial boat of her kingdom. Yet, it was his reassuring words she missed most as she lay in his arms. Her breasts ached to be cherished by his lips. He was her reason for being – what was left now?

Duty is a hollow thing, she thought. Now, only pain fueled the furnace of her vengeful heart. Pompous fools! You always fear to awaken the lioness of war, Sekhmet. Turning towards the door, Hatshepsut swore to herself, you sons of jackals haven’t seen anything yet!

Bundle of joy

(Vatican City, 1690)

The afternoon air felt stifling, although it really wasn’t; Matteo just felt that way as he stood beside Mafalda outside Fiammetta’s abode. He remembered a chill running through the length of his body yesterday, as his Nonna proclaimed her fortunate invitation, remarking, “I knew she would soften. All it took was a little patience!” Inside Matteo surrendered, knowing that to say anything would only further defeat him.

Walking into the reception hall, surrounded by the finest of Italian art and sculpture, the prince tried to look nonchalant and disinterested. Presently, the butler approached, saying, “Lady Fiammetta will receive you now.” Briefly, Matteo’s mind flitted back to the upside down fool laying on the soothsayer’s table, as he followed his Nonna into the reception room.

Sitting before them, in a Medici-style couch, sat Fiammetta, arrayed in a pastel yellow dress with blue floral print. Her neckline was framed with white lace and her sleeves with frilly cuffs; the center was a deep satin blue. For a moment, Matteo admired her style, storing it away for mention to his own tailor. Yet, his Nonna noticed none of that, for her eyes beheld the infant in Fia’s arms, as she hurried over to view him. Leaning down, face beaming, eyes sparkling, she brushed away the blanket to see his face clearly. Fia, as she watched the old woman, softened in her heart a bit, sensing the woman’s love was genuine. The butler brought a chair and held it as the madam sat.

He’s beautiful!

“He’s beautiful! Look at how big he is!” Mafalda exclaimed.

“He suckles constantly, I can barely keep up,” Fiammetta explained.

“So healthy,” the grand dam noted, as she let the baby, now awake and smiling, grab her index finger.

Matteo came forward at his Nonna’s insistence, looking on their bundle of joy with some curiosity. So this is what all the fuss is about, he thought to himself.

“His name is Nico,” Fiammetta said,

Mafalda exclaimed, “Oh, yes, a strong choice! You did well, my dear. I am very proud of you.”

Despite her misgivings, Fia found she rather liked the grand dam, and in a moment of charity, said, “Would you like to hold him?”

Obviously touched, Mafalda nodded as Fiammetta transferred baby Nico into her arms. Great-grandmother beaming, she cooed as she held her heir. Smiling, she looked up and around at all present, then back to her prize.

I could use a drink

Matteo, nervousness rising inside, fearing that he, too, might be pressed upon to hold the infant, said to the butler, “Good man, I could use a drink.”

The head servant, ever aware of moods and situations, replied, “Yes prince, we are well stocked. Please, follow me.”

Pietro, standing in the background, followed his master as the door shut behind them, leaving the two women and baby alone.

Looking at Mafalda, Fiammetta felt that little Nico meant more to the old woman than all her earthly possessions. Indeed, she now wondered why she’d been so obstinate about visitation.

Nico, beginning to fuss, wanted Momma. Reluctantly, Mafalda returned him, saying, “I never thought I would fall in love again, but little Nico has stolen my heart.”

Smiling, as she opened her dress, Fia said, “I feel the same. He is my joy, too.”

Doorway

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

She stepped out of her litter and into the morning sun, as she had done for the last few years. The private passage led directly into the temple of Amun, deep within the Karnak temple complex, allowing her the luxury to come and go as she pleased, without the necessity of pageantry. Today, a hawk stretched out its wings over her, riding on the morning thermals.

Walking alone, slowly towards the inner temple, she noted that there were no priests around. The building seemed oddly silent. Shafts of light lay on the stone in long, rectangular shapes, small on the bottoms and larger at the tops. The cool stone hung on to the night’s chill. There should be priests, she thought, rounding a corner. Then a sudden, searing pain caught her between her shoulder blades and pierced through her. Thrust forward almost off her feet, she buckled, barely catching herself, falling to her hands and knees. Unable to breathe, trying to stand again, she grasped at the arrow protruding from her chest in vain. Keeling over to one side, coughing up spurts of blood, she died.

Walking up from behind, a man, dressed in Hittite attire, reached down, putting his hand by her mouth for a moment. Then, with a rag wrapped around the arrowhead, he broke off the bloodied shaft. Kicking her over onto her face, putting his foot on her back, strong hands pulled the shaft from her lifeless body.

Pharaoh’s dead!

Horns blew from the Temple. 3, going over accounts, looked up from the papyrus. He stood, gazing out over the city towards the pylons and the two great obelisks, sensing something was wrong. Within minutes, the horns grew more numerous everywhere. Presently, a servant came running through the hallway and, finding the new vizier in the documents room, abacus in hand, the messenger shouted, “Pharaoh’s dead!”

3, looking at the panicked man said, “That’s impossible.”

“No, great master! The priests have sent word that she lays dead in the inner temple!”

Fingers flying over the moveable beads of the abacus, 3 finally lifted his head, then said sternly, “Take me to her!”

“Great Vizier, it is dangerous! We don’t know who killed her, it is unwise to go out now!”

3, said, “Now!”

The whole city seemed to be in chaos as the palace guards escorted 3 to the Karnak temple complex. Over sixty of Egypt’s elite fighting men followed 3 as he burst through the objections of the priests into the inner temple complex. Presently, he spied the body and broke into a run, leaving the soldiers struggling to catch up. Dropping to his knees, amongst the onlooking priests, he gazed at the fallen Pharaoh, lying face down in her own blood. With only the sound of the panting soldiers filling the great hall, he knelt for a few moments, then turned the lifeless woman over. Brushing her matted hair from her face, he paused, then stood, anger in his jaw line as he barked, “Bring her body to the palace!”

Bring her body

Pointing, he said, “You three priests will accompany the guards as they carry her.”

“No!” one of the old priests cried, “It can’t be done! We cannot move her before the sun sets! The rituals must be performed! You will offend the gods!”

3 reached out and with one arm, grabbed the holy man by his robes, lifting him until his feel dangled, saying, “Do as I say, priest, or I will have the lot of you executed!” Color fleeing from his face, the petrified man simply nodded.

Back at the palace, deep in the prison room where Brenzel sat, she heard horns blowing continuously. The Saras, not knowing what the alarm meant, held their mistress tight, fearing what might come next. Hearing footsteps of a group approach, the bolt on the door slid, as soldiers opened and entered. Five men in all stood at attention. Bren said, “Don’t worry girls, it’s okay,” as she stood to face her fate.

After a moment a small woman in a plain dress with a gold headband set with emeralds entered. Bren, in astonishment, didn’t know what to say except, “Pharaoh?”

The woman before her looked up and said, “Oh, just call me Hatty!”

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