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Dressing down

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Earlier in the day, as the two Saras dressed their mistress, Brenzel said, “I want to look very plain this evening – unattractive. No makeup.”

Glancing at each other in surprise, one Sara said, “Mistress Brenzel, you can’t be serious, you are going to meet Senenmut, Pharaoh’s Vizier!”

Bren continued, face set, adding, “And pull back my hair into a tight bun and…no perfume.”

Sitting down, both Saras said, “No mistress.”

“What!?” Bren said, surprised. Her Nubian girls had never refused to do anything she’d asked. Feeling angry, Bren said, “I order you to do as I say!” Tears welling up in their young eyes, Bren immediately felt badly for for what she’d just said. “I mean, please help me get ready… I’m sorry,” knowing she’d cut to the hearts with her words.

While they still sat together, Bren knelt down, laying her head on their knees. “Please forgive me Sara, I’m just – I’m stressed. I didn’t mean it like it sounded.”

After a moment, their hands caressed her hair, one asking, “What troubles you mistress? You’ve never spoken thus.”

Your customs are strange

Head remaining for a minute, Bren said, also tearing up, “I’m very, very far away from home and your customs are so strange to me. I don’t look down on how things are here, but some things are so different from my country, I simply can’t accept it.

The Saras, looking on Bren’s golden locks, still didn’t understand, and one ask, “But why do you want us to make you less attractive?”

Turmoil seething in her heart, Bren said, “It’s difficult to explain.”

Stroking her hair, the Saras, feeling her words, said, “There is no need to fear Senenmut, Mistress, but we will help you.”

“Please accept my apology. You’re my only friends, I need you.”

A long pause

Seeing her heart through her words, though still not completely understanding her motives, both Saras complied and helped Bren prepare. Then, afterwards, they walked with her to the Vizier’s quarters, kissing her goodbye as they left. Bren stood there, all alone, before the large door of Senenmut’s house, looking like a common servant girl.

So many years ago, she’d stood outside the manner of James Chesterfield waiting for that to open too. Odd, she thought, how my life keeps coming back to doors. Today, she felt that same feeling at this door too, so many years later. Back then, It had represented a way forward, but behind it only lay heartbreak and heartache. What would this door lead to? Bren wondered as she hesitated.

After a long pause, she knocked, watching the door open wide as two servants welcomed her in.

You look… lovely

“Please Mistress,” one said, “come sit in here for a moment, while I call one of the ladies of the house.” Sitting quietly in the small cubical, Bren noted it was plain by harem standards. Though well-appointed, it lacked the gaudiness of the great house, with more natural colors and sturdy, functional furniture. On a small table, to her left, sat a plain earthen vessel filled with fresh red roses.

A friendly looking lady in a sheer white dress, entered. Taking her hands, clasping them warmly, the fair, lightly freckled woman with wild hair, greeted Bren, saying, “Welcome Brenzel, thank you for coming, I’m Keftiu.” Bren, feeling her genuine heart, smiled in return. Looking her over, Keftiu, said, “You look… lovely. Please, come meet our family, our food is ready.”

Leading her into a small open court, Senenmut stood with Maskia and another younger, stunning black woman nearly as tall as Bren. Beyond them, in the center of the space, sat a long, narrow table, laden with all sorts of food and lined with chairs. The family stood around it as their master welcome Brenzel into their midst.

Not what she expected

Flanked by his three wives, Senenmut was not at all what Bren expected. He stood perhaps four inches taller than her, with chiseled features of a 40’ish year old man. Instead of the normal flat nose, his nostrils were narrow, almost European. His penetrating bright blue eyes looked inquisitively at his house guest who naturally blushed, despite her best efforts. He smiled easily, with good teeth, directing her to sit near him at the head of the table.

Before he sat, his hands motioned everyone else to take their seats, too, while the children, eleven who were old enough, folded their legs on the floor.

“Brenzel, it is a honor to welcome you to our table and our home. Please, be at ease among us,” Senenmut said.

The chair upon which Bren sat was comfortable and made well, with black colored animal feet at the end of it’s legs. Bren smiled as she felt the eyes of all the children upon her, curious. One near her said to another, “Where is all her hair? I want to see her hair!”

Small talk

Senenmut mostly observed while Maskia and Keftiu made small talk. Ebonee, as the tall dark girl was called, said little, seemingly shy or reserved. Her face dotted with small white orbs, gave her a very tribal look. A crude earth toned pendant graced her forehead, it’s strings holding back her tightly curled, shoulder length hair. Deep, black eyes, haunted and distant, stole glances at Brenzel during the conversation. Bren immediately felt compassion towards her.

The children ate and talked excitedly, but none were unruly. Dalila seemed dominant, telling all those who would listen about her adventures with their blond-haired guest. Two other women, each with younger children, tended to them as they ate.

Round and fuzzy

Roasted pork and beef, as well as several types of fish seemed the centerpiece of the meal, along with various flat and round breads. Servants brought bowls to each person, asking them what they would prefer. Senenmut waited to eat until everyone had theirs. Among the more substantial offerings, there were also nuts in bowls and fruits of various kinds. Bren reached for a round, fuzzy, light orange fruit, smelling it first, before biting into it tentatively. Falling instantly in love with its wonderfully ripe sweetness, it’s taste overwhelmed her mouth with delight. If I were allowed, she thought, I’d take some with me!

Mande people

“Where are you from, Brenzel?” Phaidra asked.

“I am from a place you may know as Pritani in the far north. It is a cold land full of streams and trees. It rains alot and is very green.”

“How did you come to be here in our land?” Phaidra inquired further.

“Were you taken by soldiers?” Maskia interjected.

“No, it was a long journey, some people took me, and I ended up with a person named Kontar.” A knowing look spread among her listeners.

Phaidra, still in the forefront of the conversation asked, “It is said that you speak many tongues. Do you know my home language – Greek?”

“Nai boró na katalávo ti glóssa sas,” Bren said without effort, causing Phaidra to exclaim,

“That’s amazing! You speak as if born in my village!”

Noticing that Ebonee looked at her steadily for the first time during dinner, Bren said, “I bɛ bɔ min?”

Wide eyed, the black girl replied, “N bɛ bɔ Tichit”

Senenmut, also looking surprised, commented, “I’m impressed, Brenzel, no one here speaks her native tongue. Ebonee is from the Western Desert, from the Mande. She is still learning to speak Coptic.” Leaning forward, the Vizier inquired with interest, “How do you know this tongue.”

Bren, feeling a bit self conscious said, “Honestly, I don’t know, sir, it is just a gift.”

Studying her with calculation he said, “Yes, indeed.” The vizier thought to himself, What are you?

Like Russian dolls

After everyone finished, Senenmut stood and announced, “Children, come forward and meet our guest, then off to bed for you.” Immediately, all the kids that could walk or toddle stood and lined up like Russian dolls, their height decreasing proportionally by age. The first, a tall, lanky Chisis, bowed and greeted Bren respectfully. Next came Akilia who did the same with beautiful almond eyes. Rana, Nanu, and Shani came in quick succession. Dalila giggled as she smiled broadly, sporting a dark Ankh painted on her face, clearly pleased with her appearance. Gyasi and Ife came forward, each taking one of Bren’s hands, kissing her, to the awe of those who followed. Donkor, who seemed about four with a sister in tow, came and hugged their father’s guest, not to be out done. Sadiki and Jabari, were carried by their mothers, Maskia and Zarmandukht, while the last, a baby girl named Khepre, stepped forward in her mother, Bina’s, arms. Bren, seeing the little bundle of chubby pinkness said, “She’s adorable, may I hold her?”

“Yes, of course!” Bina said, smiling broadly as she handed the baby to Brenzel, who spoke softly to her and tickled her cheeks for a few moments, giggling to herself.

Herding the children to bed, their mothers said goodnight to Bren and their husband, too. The servants efficiently cleared the table and arranged everything in its place until it was just Senenmut and Bren sitting together. Feeling comfortable, she said, “You have a lovely family, sir, I admire how well behaved your children are.”

“Truly, they are the stars of my heaven,” the vizier agreed.

Are you being treated well?

Looking at her, Senenumt asked, “I desire to know if you are being well treated.”

“Yes, sir, I am well taken care of, and everyone treats me respectfully.”

“Good,” he said. Then looking at her, he added, “There was no need to make yourself plain tonight, I did not call you for that purpose. I never force anyone to do something against their desire.”

Taken aback by his directness, and suddenly feeling foolish, Bren fumbled as she felt heat rise to her face, saying, “Oh this? It is just something I had lying about.”

“Yes, indeed,” he said smiling. “Truthfully, though, your efforts to hide your beauty only accentuated it.”

Bren just smiled and looked shyly away.

Shifting his position on the chair, he said, “Soon Pharaoh will meet with you, she asked that I give you that news.” Standing he said, “Welcome Brenzel, I look forward to attending your party. Have a good evening.”

I must tell you!

Bren blurted, “I have something I must tell you!”

Surprised, he said, “Of course, what is it?”

Inside, Bren struggled to hold back the accusation, but to no avail, “I believe Mistress Arinna is plotting something against you.”

Trying to hide his surprise but showing it nonetheless, he said slowly, “And how do you know this?”

“I heard it,” Bren answered.

Becoming very quiet, he said, “Brenzel, it is a serious thing to accuse a royal wife. Even for someone new, it is a grave matter to speak thus.” He finished with, “Be careful what you say next.”

Bren, becoming aware of what the powerful man before her meant, said, “I can understand Hittite, and I heard Arinna tell another person that they must get something quickly. Then Arinna said, the other person must think about her family, as if threatening her.”

Why should I believe you?

“Why should I believe you? Do you fancy yourself the eye of Horus?” Senenmut said looking sternly at her.

Bren, facing him in her plain dress, no makeup, and hair pulled back, said, “I don’t know why, I just know it’s true. It’s what I heard as clearly as I hear you speaking right now. It sounded like they want to do you harm.”

“And you are sure you recognized her voice?” Senenmut asked. “Where were you when this all happened?”

Bren, gulping hard, realizing what she was doing, replied “I was asleep. I know, it sounds odd. But it happened twice. I hear and see things. At first I didn’t know who it was, but now I do. It was Arinna, she spoke about your coming journey.”

“What? What Journey?” The Vizier, said, suddenly deadly interested in Bren’s words.

“You are leaving soon to go to a place called the Cataracts. I don’t know what that means, but it sounded like whatever they were planning, Arinna wants it done before then.”

Quiet for a moment, Senenmut composed himself, finishing with, “Thank you for your insight, I will consider your words. It is very important that you tell no one else about this. You haven’t, told anyone else, have you?

“No, no one,” Bren answered truthfully.

“Good,” Pharaohs Vizier concluded. My servant will walk you to your quarters.”

We’d do anything for him

On the way back to her room, Bren walked behind Senenmut’s female servant. Bren asked, “If I may so bold, I have a question?”

“Speak mistress, I will answer,” the young woman said as they walked.

“What do your master’s female servants think about him? Does he treat you well?”

The girl, stopping, turned and declared with uncharacteristic directness for a slave, “Our master is the kindness, gentlest man in all of Egypt. We love him and would do anything for him. Next to Pharaoh, there is none better.”

Look at her for a moment, Bren realized that the young lady truly believed every word she said. “Thank you, I hope I was not too forward,” Bren explained.

The woman smiled and said, leaning in just a bit, “Its okay, you’re from the Barbarian Lands, civilization must be so strange for you.”

As Bren followed the servant, she rolled her eyes at again being called “barbaric”. But as she walked, she thought on the girl’s loyalty. It wasn’t just her words, but the fierceness with which she said them. Shaking her head, Bren thought, Senenmut doesn’t have to force any woman, they’re all in love with him already.

SEIOIB.