April 7, 2017 at 4:14 pm #1095
The child was not conceived under extraordinary circumstances. The father was Chief of a small warlike tribe of Gallah Kushites that frequently raided the borders for slaves. The mother was one of many concubines, who though not lacking in beauty or hardiness showed no signs of divinity. The birth of the child, however changed the fate and shape of her destiny as ordained by the very stars that loomed above the desert sky.
From the onset of the mother’s pains at sunset, the sky slowly turned from orange to an ominous blue-purple color that resembled a bruise. The stars flared brightly and meteors streaked overhead putting on a celestial display that caused the elders to whisper in wonder. At the moment the child entered the world, a speeding flash illuminated the darkness so brightly that the night birds fell silent. When the heavenly fragment ruptured over the mystical city of Kheshatta, the child’s first cry burst forth into the world.
My father, like most of my kin, was a superstitious man. The entirety of my village was illiterate and only two elders spoke anything other than Kushite. My people see signs and omens in everything; from the way the wind blows to the color of the clouds at sunrise. The meteor shower that ushered in my birth was a sign to my father that I, like the falling stars, should make my way North towards Stygia. He expected grand things from me in a world that none of us knew anything about and so he gave me a Stygian name; Hemekthes.
Despite the care my father took in naming me, it did little to promote my vertical mobility through society when abroad. I was poor and dark of skin with nappy hair. My clothes were worn animal skins adorned in bone and teeth, mended and patched with sinew and straps of leather. Among my people, I stood as one of them, a simple daughter of deepest Kush, but among the Stygians who took pride in pale skin and fine, silky wigs I may as well have been from a different universe.
My first education was at a Temple of Set, and though it was not located in Luxur, it humbled me with its grandeur and elegance. Though I was not studying to be a priest, the acolytes taught me to read and to write, helping to expand my Stygian vocabulary steadily every day. My interest was piqued in a great many things; astrology, architecture, politics and even in the dark arts of sorcery. I soon learned to appreciate the subtlety of the Stygian people and am proud to admit that I adapted their acute refinement into my everyday existence.
Once I began to display signs of womanhood, my education continued in the perfumed chambers of the dusky lady. I learned the arts of dance, cuisine, persuasive speech, music, storytelling, etiquette and lovemaking. Seduction became a game, a technique that I employed with all of the many nuances I had learned in Set’s temple. It was because of a young priestess from Bubshur that I learned the most important lesson, one of self confidence. Bes taught me to appreciate the things that made me different, to accentuate them and utilize them to make myself stand out in a sea of Stygians competing to be white.
My completion of training in Derketo’s temple ushered in the most freedom I have ever had in my life. I missed my home and my many sisters and brothers. I missed our own Gods and ways of worship and began to feel as if I was out of touch with the self I had known in my youth. The desire for knowledge was too strong to let me go home, however. I found employment as a scribe and bought myself some Stygian fashions, wigs and cosmetics. I created a new life and new persona for myself and absorbed knowledge greedily as I pursued hedonistic and youthful pleasures.
Once I finally did make my way back home, it seemed like that dusty little village had shrank and become stagnant. I hated that I only saw the flaws, the poverty, that I could no longer relate to my own brothers and sisters who had hunted gazelle and stole turtle eggs alongside me when we were younger. The changes in me did not displease my father, in fact he was thrilled with the alterations I had incorporated into my life. He considered my education an investment, one that would fetch him a hefty bride price to the right family, so it did not surprise me when the suitors began arriving.
There were men from the tribes of Kush, Punt, Keshan and even a Turanian, but my father turned away the offers of cows, gold, carnelian, ivory and slaves until Anukhotep II, a Chaga businessman from Northern Kush came to speak on his son, Anukshep’s behalf. I had not met many Chaga, the ruling class of my Gallah people, and I had not been interested in knowing any until I glimpsed the wine merchant. Anukhotep was tall and lean with a golden brown complexion and bright hazel eyes. He had a full head of soft black curls and a well groomed beard. He was middle aged but healthy, vibrant and strong with straight white teeth, a hardy spine and hands of a farmer.
My father was pleased with Anukhotep’s offer of wealth, but what impressed him more was the fact that the merchant had no inclination to prevent me from studying and increasing my knowledge of the world. It did not matter to my father that the man had changed his mind before the torches were lit in the evening and decided to take me as his own bride instead of his son’s. It did not matter to me either. I had come to loathe my father for reasons I could never ink into papyrus, and aside from that, I found myself quickly infatuated with the stranger that offered me such comforts and prosperity for the rest of my life.
Though we would plan a celebration several months down the road, as soon as Anukhotep returned with my bride price and took me back to his city, I was his.
With misty eyes, I still often reflect on those happy months during the summer and autumn of my sixteenth year. Anukhotep relished in spoiling me and seeing to my every need, but there was so much more that he did to make me love him. He encouraged me, even challenged me, to improve myself. He believed in me, listened to my ideas and treated me like an equal. His father had been a great priest of Set and chronicled many findings that delved into the dark arts. One of his wedding gifts to me was his father’s journal that provided me with even further insights and curiosities.
I was truly in love with my Anukhotep, and it was the first time in my life I had allowed such a sentiment to pierce the armor of my heart. It was impossible not to as we lounged side by side discussing ways to eliminate his debt… or his creditors, not as two schemers, but as a union of two people with the rest of our lives ahead of us.
The week leading up to my wedding celebration was one full of laughter and hurried preparations. I would be meeting Anukhotep’s children and I would be seeing my own family again. He never even once complained about all fifteen of my sisters running amok in his palace home, squealing and touching everything as they helped me to prepare for our day. Despite the hectic schedule, we always found ourselves entwined in one another’s arms once the heat of the day had given way to cool breezes from the northwest.
Anukhotep had mentioned some trouble with several of the younger men, Gallah, that lived in the outer village. Though he had a strong and symbiotic relationship with the farmers and workers that made up the majority of his fiefdom, Anukhotep felt that these men would cause trouble. He had hoped that his son would tend to it after the chain of weddings that would take place. He fully intended to pass on a hefty amount of responsibility and the privilege that came with it to his children and their soon to be spouses.
With thoughts of the young men, the debt, and nearly every other troublesome or mundane thought far from our minds, we began to worry about the safety of Anukhotep’s children, especially with the day of our celebration upon us and no word from them. Our guests arrived, dining on delicacies and treats beneath silk and satin tents and awnings. We dressed in our finest clothing and met in secret. My beloved could not decide whether to be sick with worry or rage, his fears alternating between some horrible fate befalling his youngsters, or those very same youngsters protesting his remarriage with their tardiness.
I did the only thing that a good wife could. I held him and spoke soft reassuring words and then I made him smile with some stupid joke that I can no longer recall. I smiled as his eyes lit up but my attention was captured by the opening of the gates. We turned to look together, hopeful that his family had safely arrived, but to our confusion and fear, saw only the rush of dozens men sporting dark clothing and blue turbans that masked their features. The glint of their steel arrested Anukhotep and he breathed a deep, dire, gasp.
The invaders began hacking and cutting through the people gathered peacefully in their fine clothing, their weapons too far away to mount a defense. Anukhotep pressed me into the house and drew his sword, fashioned more for ceremony than practicality. Some of my sisters stood inside with me and when our eyes met we silently decided to take spears and swords from the wall and defend the courtyard. There was only vanity and pride in our bravery, for the slaughter that took place outside was as thorough as it was unstoppable.
Anukhotep fought well, but the odds were so grossly out of his favor that it was only a matter of time before the few of us still standing and wielding weapons were being pushed through the gates of the now burning city. I cannot bring myself to detail the deaths that I witnessed that day or the depths to which they affected me. I saw his death, his assassination, and my world stopped when his head came apart from his shoulders and rolled towards me. I took it between my hands and looked into his eyes, the dying light behind them radiated his final look of love as his tears still streamed into his bloody beard.
I carried that part of him with me as we fled, and I carried it back as I returned to the ruins and found the hiding place where his father’s journal and his precious city plans had been secreted away. It was a very long time before I laid him to rest because there was simply no place worthy of it. A burning hatred for humanity developed in my heart that night as I sat in the desert and wept, not even ready to begin contemplating the changes that would alter my life.
When the tall, hazel eyed young Chaga man approached me, I knew without any need for words that it was my dead husband’s son.
Users who have liked this topic:April 21, 2017 at 4:37 pm #1100
Anukshep did little to strike admiration or kinship in my heart when we first met. He was pleasant enough to look at; rising to at least his father’s six feet of height, if not more. He did not sport his father’s oiled curls or rugged beard but rather took great care to remove the hair from his face, head and body in a Stygian-like nature. His skin was a bit fairer in complexion than Anukhotep’s, but they shared similar features in their hawkish, regal noses, proud chins and especially their piercing eyes. No, it was not Anukshep’s face or physique that I took exception to.
To say he did little to veil the animosity that he felt for his father was an understatement. There was a palpable hatred he felt for the man that had treated me so kindly. The subject is not one fully healed, so I have not breached it in quite some time, but suffice it to say that I found him disrespectful and that disrespect was childish and immature in my eyes. The severity of our situation, however, forced a mutual cooperation. He had banded people together, claiming to be exiles; runaway slaves, criminals – most falsely accused, naturally. There was even one among the final exodus who had wished to rob me. All manner of lower and fallen peoples trusted him enough to band with him in hopes of reaching Anukhotep’s lands.
I was unwilling to relinquish my inheritance of these lands. I had lost my husband, my father, many of my family. If the rumors were true, these now impassable lands would forever see to it that my tribe was disbanded, save for myself and some of my siblings. I am not too proud to admit to myself that the entire reason I began to care for Anukshep was to help legitimize my own hold of what belonged to me. No one is truly looking out for me, not without having a stake in it for themselves. Had I not acted as I did, there is no telling what my fate would have become. Perhaps I would not be writing these words now.
It is easy to forget the time that has passed since we met, but sometimes it is difficult to realize just how little time has passed. He seems like he has grown before my eyes. I remember looking at him and thinking of what a spoiled child he seemed to be. As the days moved beyond us and I pressed myself closer to him with the intent to make him mine, I remember thinking how his kindness and compassion were weaknesses. I still often feel this way, and so I must be that much more steeled and resolute. I have no room to be anything other than critical and judgmental until it makes my heart cold and distant. There must be balance, and if balance does not exist in one, it must exist in two.
That is why they must see me as a King rather than a Queen. By its very wording a Queen is regal, civilized, motherly, soft. We can not both be like this and I fear this world has corrupted and broken my spirits and hope to ever be these things. Neither of us asked for a title, neither of us appointed ourselves to anything, but once it became clear that Anukshep’s lead was being followed, I had no intentions of being left out or cast aside.
Love was nothing I cared for or wanted, and because I felt this way, I was not furious at his amorous affections for others. What bothered me was the way I felt inside after the fact, as if I was betrayed. I realized then that I felt this way because I had begun to care for him in a more profound way than I thought capable…and of course because I do not like being made foolish by being unaware. I wonder still some nights, if he would have confessed it to me if I had not already felt the bitter stab of betrayal that reflected in my eyes. I told him it made no difference, that we would each conduct our own affairs and continue to work together on the city without the need for love, but at his insistence I agreed to attempt to nurture something between us…and it has changed my life.
When one speaks of love like some drunk troubadour, images of soft, weak, powerless young idiots comes to mind…but love has not done this to me. Love has made me a lioness, a viper. It has made me hard, unyielding as tempered steel. I fear that as my feelings grow, my intolerance to threats will consume me. This is why I speak to you, a simple book…I cannot trust these words with a person that would use them against me. I do not think I could be a mother for these reasons, my fear of loss would ignite such distrust and suspicion for the world that I might burn myself to ashes with the heat of rage in my breast.
I will push him away, as I have pushed away everyone else that I have dared to care for…but I will see that they are safe, even if it is safety from me that they require.
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