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Star-Flaming Queen

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The sun slowly sinks below the rim of the horizon; around it, the sky glows pink and gold with reflected light. The Queen stands patiently on her balcony, while the sky turns a darker blue and then darker still. Pamina fidgets a little at her side. It seems she is about to speak, but the Queen gives her a quelling look and she remains silent. The girl too must learn patience. At last it is dark enough that three stars can be seen in the sky, and now it is the time of her power.

The Queen draws in a breath and sings: a low note at first, but then she flings her voice rapidly upward in a scattering of arpeggios. The stars flame into light one by one. She can hear Pamina gasp beside her, but she pays no heed, only continues in her song until the night sky is all one glory.

Only then does she turn to Pamina. The girl’s eyes are shining. “Mother, will I truly be able to do that?”

“Yes,” the Queen says. “It is your inheritance as my daughter.” Pamina waits obediently for instructions, and the Queen smiles. “You see that star?” she says, pointing.

Pamina nods. “Yes, mother.”

The Queen sings again, the notes leaping from high to low, and the star’s light goes out. “Rekindle it,” she says. “If you are truly my daughter, you will be able to do it.”

Pamina frowns in concentration, takes a breath, and sings. Her voice is not yet mature, still with the light tones of girlhood, and she cannot match the Queen in power. But she should be able to this small thing.

Pamina sings, and yet the star does not light. She looks uncertainly at her mother.

“Again,” the Queen says harshly. Surely her daughter cannot be a failure. The Queen has no doubt of her own strength. She wedded her husband, the only man who dared to challenge her, thinking that his strength combined to hers would raise her power still higher. But he let himself be swayed by the priests of Isis and Osiris, with their false humility and their scorn for women, and learned to think ambition a fault. In the end, he was weak. Her daughter must not be so.

Pamina sings again. Her voice is sweet and beautiful, but being sweet will not help her in the world of men. Pamina has seen her mother sing the stars into light all through her childhood. The Queen will not have a daughter who is so foolish she cannot even do this.

Pamina’s voice is tremulous now, her fingers twisting nervously. The Queen gives her no help, only watches her with a demanding stare. Pamina is desperate to please her -- she is a good child. It is that desperation which lets her bridge the gap. Her voice fumbles into the right line, still unsteady, but it is enough. The star shines with a faint light.

Pamina’s face breaks into a smile, and she looks at her mother for approval. This time the Queen smiles too.