Along the Nile
excerpt from Chapter 1
I remember well the first day she came to live here, as if remembering a lovely dream. I was standing on the precipitous cliff overlooking the Nile, with Abtu Palace to my right. It was a typically hot day of the season before the yearly inundation. Although I had applied black kohl around my eyes and on my eyebrows as well, my eyes were practically blinded by the incessant glare from the sparkling whitewashed walls. Ra cast his noonday golden light upon the earth, delivering his blessings to the Royal Event that would shortly take place.
Birds chirped and sang in the palm trees that swayed alongside Abtu Palace, securely built on the cliffs overlooking the southern Nile. The Sacred River lay far below me, her belly soon to be pregnant with floodwater, renewing life with her yearly inundation. Fragrant lotus blossoms basked in the sunshine along her muddy banks.
From my vantage point outside, I could see the seemingly endless toil of water-bearers moving up and down the winding, steep path to the river. A steady stream of them, like busy worker ants, were lugging water from the river below to irrigate the plants and trees of the garden and to bring fresh water to the Palace for the Coronation/Wedding. A similar parade of those with empty jugs was descending the path down to the River to fill them up once more. We servants had been preparing for weeks.
I had hardly slept in many days, supervising and double-checking the innumerable details. Nobles from every family in the Southern Kingdom, Ta-Meir Res, had been invited for the Royal Occasion. Guests had been arriving for days, including the Bride’s family from Nekken. The isolated towns and cities of Ta-Meir Res were connected by the Nile, River of Life, separated by vast, virtually lifeless expanses of desert. Therefore, all of them had journeyed by boat to Abtu Palace....
Draped across the woman’s young, full breasts hung a long necklace undoubtedly fashioned by a master craftsman. Draping around her neck, attached to five or more strands of lapis lazuli beads, was a solid gold image of Het-Heru, similar to the amulet I had played with since childhood! The carved white alabaster folds of the Neter’s dress were intricately defined with inlays of turquoise and malachite. The golden disk and crescent moon above the Lady of Gold—Het-Heru’s—head shimmered in solid gold, as did the finely-detailed sistrum and menat necklace she held.
I couldn’t take my eyes off that necklace, nor the firm breasts on which it rested. I would like to be that splendid necklace, lying across my lady’s breasts.
I tingled hotly with the thought. My body began to take on a life unbidden by me. I wondered what the feel of those breasts would be in my hands, what womanly scent emanating from between their rounded flesh, as I buried my nose between them. My excited body responded with a huge lump that Min, the Neter of carnal appetites, would be proud of. Horrified and guilt-ridden, I blushed and quickly looked around, praying no one could see me and guess my thoughts, glad to be safely hidden in the curtains.
But it seems I was not the only one entranced by our young queen-to-be. All eyes were upon her and no one moved or spoke. Then the Grand Vizier, holding his ceremonial wooden staff, stepped in front of Pharaoh, facing him. On the top of the pole was a carved vulture’s head, the Neter protector of Ta-Meir Res, Nekhebet, while Her vulture wings wrapped around the lower end of the wooden stick.
Ptah-un-Atum turned to face the crowd, pounded his long staff loudly on the marble floor and introduced the Pharaoh. “Ankhamun-Heru, Son of Ra, Speaker of Truth, Defender of Ma’at, Lord of the Diadem of Nekhebet, Protector of Life,
Beloved of Amun, King of Hedje and Lord of Upper Ta-Meir Res. Ankh. Uja. Senb.”
All those present knelt and put their foreheads to the ground in obeisance to Pharaoh for a few moments. The regal clink of golden bracelets and anklets could be heard as the Nobility regained their collective feet. “Ankh. Uja. Senb,” they repeated.
The sound of Ptah-un-Amun’s ceremonial staff rang out again in the stilled Hall. “The Noble Lady Atalana, Priestess of Het Heru, Mistress of the Southern Sycamore. Ankh. Uja. Senb.”
The assembly bowed as one body and repeated the words. “Ankh. Uja. Senb.”
Fat Ptah-un-Atum moved aside with some effort and Atalana gracefully climbed the few steps to Pharaoh, standing in front of Ankhamun’s throne, facing her husband-to-be. As Atalana approached, the Supreme Master of Upper Ta-Meir Res held out his trembling hands like a shy schoolboy. She touched her carefully manicured hands to the heka and nekhekha, gazing reverently into his aging eyes, also outlined in green. Then she moved to his right side and, still standing, faced the congregation.
Pharaoh’s youngest brother Shu-un-Atum, Custodian of the Crown, held the Hedjet - White Crown - in his skinny hands. He climbed up the steps to the dais and stood behind the royal couple. Priests and Priestesses proceeded to waft incense over the Royal Couple, then chanted long rhythmic invocations and recitations to the Neterw Ma’at, Heru, Ra, Amun, HetHeru, and Nekhebet, while asking them to bring their wisdom, power, love, and protection to the new Queen.
When the long and complex oratory was finished, Atalana removed her vulture tiara, holding it in her right hand. Shu-un-Atum placed a White Crown similar to Pharaoh’s own on the delicate feminine head, positioning it carefully over her wig. With the investiture completed, Atalana was now Queen.
The Vizier backed down the steps and bowed low before the royal couple. The rest of the congregation followed suit.
Pharaoh Ankhamun moved the heqa and nekhakha to hold both in his left hand, took Atalana’s small one and kissed it tenderly. At that moment they were married as well. Priestesses rattled their sistrums while the drummers drummed. Sacred music for a joyous occasion.
Atalana smiled radiantly at my Master and the skin around her dark eyes crinkled with happiness. Her perfectly even, white teeth gleamed with rapture.
“She loves the Pharaoh,” I thought to myself, at once happy for my master, yet filled with unfathomable, gut-wrenching grief. My manhood shrunk to a limp rag of skin as though I had dove into the cold river below.
Then Atalana turned and with the same joyful smile, bestowed her blessings on the congregation. With that gesture, she immediately endeared herself to all around her.
A great shout of exaltation sprang simultaneously from all lips present, except mine. Wedding guests eagerly began to line up, maneuvering for position, to congratulate the newly married Royal couple.
The harpists and flutists began to play a lovely song, while the noisy, excited chatter of the Nobility filled the Great Hall.
I abruptly left my position behind the curtain in the Great Hall, thinking I would inspect the vast quantities of food awaiting the wedding feast. But my eyes saw nothing and no one except the vision of Atalana’s loveliness seared into my tormented brain. I passed unnoticed in the commotion as I hurried through the Great Hall to the main corridor. I stumbled like a blind man, agitated and confused, past interior rooms, out to the open courtyard, then to the cooking area behind the palace complex. I bumped into several women arranging food on large trays until I found a flat rock to collapse onto.
My chest pained me terribly. As though a cobra was poisoning my body. Or a bird of prey was devouring my heart. At that moment I wished I had died before I had ever set eyes on her.
Yes, I remember that day. And my life would never again be the same.
copyright 2017 Lauren O. Thyme
images from pixabay.com