"The City Palace at Sekhem"
“…If we cannot learn to actually enjoy…small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.” Gene Roddenberry
It was the season of Peret, the planting.
Waters of the Great River receded. Shorn fields, under water since The Inundation, covered themselves with black earth.
Fertile lands promising harvests of wheat, barley, melons, and flax, more valuable than gold, black earth, shone like oil in the sun, still wet. This was the land of the living, the black land of Kemet.
Beyond, the land climbed higher, black earth giving way to red sand. Parched in sunlight, dry plains where sun and wind stripped flesh from bone, lay Deshret, the land of the dead. Climbing over burning rocks and boulders blasted by the furnace in the sky, three di’jin twisted roughly, throwing dust into whirls, laughing at those foolish enough to approach.
Closer, on a low bluff between the living and the dead, the palace of the Gods, teamed with activity. Behind tall, tapered walls, painted columns, and thick, silent doors, the blessed ones gathered. Nobles, jeweled and perfumed, scribes, cooks, even lowly farmers gathered to pay homage to the Queen, the Matriarch of Kemet.
Cooks prepared funereal feasts. Stewards brought amphorae of wine from seasons past, and all spoke of the Matriarch’s departure.
A musician sat in a garden near the kitchens, resting her fingers. She’d been playing all morning.
Mau sat back on her haunches and looked up.
Pentu looked at the young musician next to him and laughed, “She gives you a sacrifice.”
Nebt pulled away, as Mau dropped the corpse of a mouse at her feet.
“You will insult the Goddess,” Pentu teased, placing his rough hand on hers.
Nebt swallowed hard, and looked at the bejeweled feline, “Thank you, holy one.” She nodded.
Looking at Pentu, she drew her brows together. “Do not laugh,” she whispered loudly. “Even now, our Queen is walking among the reeds.” She moved further from the grisly gift.
Ignoring Nebt’s caution, he laughed. “You are clearly not her favorite,” he gestured, standing, knowing he must get back to the brick yards. “Otherwise, she would have given you the head.”
“Today we mourn,” Nebt scolded, wondering that he was not more respectful.
Mau turned her feline gaze towards the great hall. Lowering herself to the ground so not to be seen, she snaked across the sand, freezing stock-still with one paw lifted, her ears flicked back and forth.
With the stealth of a thief, she made her way towards a potted bush. There, a bird fluttered hopelessly in thick branches. Flapping its wings, tail feathers caught on a thorn.
Two men, covered in flour, walked from the kitchens carrying metal disks. Leaning towards each other, whispering, one man struck his toe against a door frame, dropping disks onto the step. Metal plates, used to spread dough into circular forms, made a loud clang. Two rolled from the slab out into the garden.
Mau froze. Lowering herself against the ground, she saw them rolling towards her. Digging her paws in sand, she turned quickly, running in the opposite direction. Entering a doorway, she sprinted down a darkened hall. Panicked, she ran between the legs of servants and nobles.
Turning right, then left, she entered a wing normally closed off. She heard voices from the end of the hall. Daintily, she made her way towards them. The strong odor of incense stopped her. Looking from behind a column, her eyes reflecting lamplight like brass disks, she saw a woman standing at a bedpost.
In her early 20s, the woman wore a sheer toga and braided wig. The ancient bed was stuffed with straw.
Lamps cast trembling shadows against thin drapes, the air was heavy with perfume. Hathors wearing golden masks stood around the bed, hunched over the old woman. She lay still, wheezing. Wisps of white hair, tangled, brushed away from her forehead, framed an aged face. In outstretched hands, she grasped coverings.
They stood in silence, transmitting thoughts.
Gasping, the old woman called out, “Batresh.”
The Hathors acted quickly. Technology in the jewelry they wore, medallions hanging from their foreheads, activated, casting light towards the aged Queen. Closing their eyes, they whispered rhythmic spells, their bodies swaying.
Acolytes shook sistrums, accompanying chant with metallic shimmering.
Batresh’s head swam. The walls curved, bending around her. She held onto the bedpost, incense burned her nostrils. Her heart pounded. She closed her eyes. A blinding flash of light, sizzle of heated elements. A pungent odor of burning filaments filled the room.
As if waking from a dream, the dizziness diminished and she regained her footing.
The chanting stopped.
Opening her eyes, she saw the Hathors standing back from the bed, staring at the lifeless body.
The Matriarch was dead.