Disclaimer: See the notes at the end of the story, the Egyptian gods/goddesses and historical people and places are not mine; I claim only the words and was written as a conspiracy/case story. “(or the Tale of the Harem Conspiracy)
“The Book of Hours” by karrenia
Thebes, 1167 BC, early spring
Spring was in the air, heady with the mingled scents of perfume extracted from those same flowers and a heady sense of great events in the offing.
The entire royal retinue had recently relocated to the royal city of Thebes to celebrate the Heb-Sed, the rejuvenation festival that took place after a king rules for more than thirty years and it had continued to take place every three years thereafter.
The event was one of celebration and pomp and circumstance, with lavish feasts laid, music, acrobatic acts both foreign and imported from all over the sprawling empire, and intended for everyone, from the very highest to the very lowest.
The older generation grumbled that it was difficult to get the harvest in or the merchandise out to the market stalls with such headlong celebration in the air, but the younger generation simply laughed away at these complaints, saying ‘What could possibly be wrong with a little celebration! Spring is in the air! Eat! Drink! Be Merry!’
Over the years it had become more of a symbol and a transition between the seasons, the change-over from winter to summer. There would always be many in the royal household who could understand and appreciate the value of a symbol.
That time had come around once more on along with the pomp and circumstance that always followed such moves there those among both the high and low and all classes could sense a distinct undercurrents of tension in the air.
Although it would be a long time before it would come to the surface; that feeling of unrest, of things not being quite the way they should be, seethed underneath the skin of the people, simmering.
Within the environs of the royal harem one could detect the subtle mingling aromas of jasmine, lavender and other more exotic scents, carefully cultivated and tended to by the omni-present, and ever so meticulous eunuchs. While there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that the men posted as guards at all the entrances and exists to the harem were zealous in the execution of their assigned duty; the eunuchs, were even more so.
It was once said that even in the enclosed environs of the royal harem one can find wheels within wheels, if anyone should trouble to look beyond the veneer of everyday life.
Enclosed as these women were: with daily life revolving around weaving, embroidery, children, these women are the wives of powerful men, the army, the royal house, they are kept, yes, and they know it, but some realized that their fate could be much worse off under different circumstances.
Under the present regime it has become something of a game, a dangerous game, that these women play among each other, as a means to relieve the tedium. The game may have begun as a harmless diversion, and whether or not some of the younger women realize it or not, the game of late, has taken on an additional and much more dangerous dimension.
Somehow the pieces on the playing board now involve actual living people. However Teya, one of the Rameses II’s many wives and mother of his numerous progeny made the wise decision chose not to share this vital piece of strategy to the younger and less senior less it worry them unnecessarily.
Knowing full well that as a female she could not rule directly, did not deter her.
In the back of her mind she thought, ‘I am denied by my sex the authority and power I should have otherwise had, but all is not lost. There is another way, but how best to accomplish it?’
Teya was as ambitious as she was beautiful and figuring that she could rule indirectly if her son, Pentaware sat on the throne of the Two Lands, began to scheme in earnest.
Queen Teya wished to overthrow Ramses the Third, to do this she had to remove Ramses both the father as the son, if she wished to end the dynasty once and for all. She begun to think long over how best to accomplish this, and it would take time and a great deal of planning.
She began to quietly and discreetly enlist a group of officials throughout the administration as well as servants to help deliver messages to the outside.
At the first the messages seemed to be nothing more than innocuous correspondence, detailing as they did the ins-and-outs of daily live, and in the, even removed as they were from the main capital, it was still the grandest and most luxurious of royal harems in the kingdom. When the dispatches and correspondence gradually became sprinkled with items of a more serious nature; no one took notice of it; except those with eyes to see, and ears to hear, and who had been sworn to utmost secrecy.
She first approached a man named Paibakamana who in due course received help from a magistrate named Mastesuria, and two administrators Panouk and Pentua.
Since the harem had very restricted access Pentua sought out the overseer of the King's treasury, Pairy, to gain access to the harem.
Money changed hands all with the outward semblance of legality, and again no one thought to probe too deeply into the matter; as yet. That was also the danger that the conspirators flittered with, and perhaps toyed with in the back of their minds, but only Queen Teya knew for certain.
In the privacy of her bed-chamber when she lay down between the silk sheets and considered the inherent dangers of her massive undertaking, she thought: ‘Do I fully comprehend and appreciate the risks that I am taking?
Yes, do I ask too much of those I have enlisted to make common cause with me and my son? Again, yes. Then, so, I am resolved.’
At last she fell asleep. Her dark hair, unbound from the ivory pins that had held it in place spread across the white linen of her bed pillows like an ink stain. Her mouth was curved in a self-satisfied smile that never quite faded from her from expression even in the repose of slumber.
It so happened that one afternoon, early in the spring Ramses the Third chose to visit one of his wives, the young woman whose name was Ysuni, but many called his court ornament.
She was small and slight of build with lustrous black hair and fair skin, and she had a sweet-tempered nature, with smiles in equal measure for all and sundry. And while he was aware that as a minor wife in choosing her this evening he would very well be slighting the more senior wives; he found himself in the mood for wine and an a pleasant evening. It will be Yusni this afternoon,’ he thought.
Yusni, under the guise of eagerness to please her lord, ran off to inform Teya of his impending visit.
To her credit, and much to Teya’s surprise the girl did not rush through her explanations as the older woman had half assumed that she would.
Instead, Yusni: she of the long glossy black hair coiled underneath her head scarf, hands clasped in front of air, and with a dignified bow of a younger ranking wife to a senior; calmly imparted her information.
“My lady,” Ysuni began, her voice pitched low as was her wont, the hour has come round that we have long planned for is now ripe for harvesting. You know of what I speak, do you not?”
Teya nodded her head once, in acknowledgement. “Still it would behoove us to continue to exercise caution in all matters, even this one, lest the merest slip should unduly give us away.” Seeing the skin around the heavily khol-rimmed eyes narrow in annoyances at what Ysuni might have very well interpreted as a mild rebuke, Teya raised her hand and replied soothingly. “Nay, nay, do not glower so, child. I merely meant that was must continue to exercise caution.”
“What do you wish of me?” asked Yusni, the lines of irritation disappearing from her countenance as rapidly and smoothly as silk.
“He fancies you this evening, prepare for him as you normally would, but when the moment comes to make our move, plead an indisposition, whatever you wish, as long as it is plausible.”
Ysuni nodded. “As you wish, I know just what to do.”
Ramses III entered the royal harem with a confident swagger a tight-lipped smile on his face indicating to all that he found the preparations for his arrival pleasing, and nodded as he strode down the hall to the apartments of his chosen wife, Yusni, for the evening,; she of the silky hair that he had once likened to a river of black onyx, only smoother.
She had laughed and rewarded that compliment with a dazzling smile and a rub-down with scented oils, her hands smelling of perfume and kohl. In the back of his mind he thought, ‘Women are such strange creatures, give them a compliment and they melt like butter, still they remain a mystery and that is part of their charm.’
He signaled that he would wish his guards to remain at a discreet distance just to the outside of the harem, which they complied with due alacrity.
Lying in artful languor her smooth limbs partially concealed by the folds of clothing Yusni awaited him in her boudoir. “Greetings, My Lord,” she cooed.
“Ah, my little dove, it is a delight to mine eyes,” he replied as he settled in beside her, as always struck by my how much larger his hands were in comparison to hers. He leaned in for a kiss which she returned eagerly.
They continued in such wise for a while then he began to inquire as to the small activities of her day, the progress on her weaving and embroidery, whether or not the sons of the other wives had reached the age of maturity that would mean that they would leave the harem and go on to the schools or military academies based on ability and merit, but soon he found his desire rising once more, and begged off.
At that moment Yusni got up from the bed to walk over to an ivory-inlaid side table and poured two goblets of red wine, and brought them back over to the bed. “Drink with me?” she said.
He nodded and took the offered glass. She sipped at her hairs and glass and fluttered her long eye-lashes at him as he swallowed a long draught of the heady wine. In the back of his mind he realized that he really should not be drinking like this, since he’d already imbibed a considerably amount before coming and he know the heady effects wine had on him; but no matter.
He drank down the entire goblet down and almost immediately it went to his head. He felt faint, hot and cold at the same time, the sweetness of the drink almost but not quite as sweet as the taste of Yusni’s lips.
It might have been his imagination but the curvature of these same lips had widened just a fraction of an inch as their owner regarded him with less than the fond regard of only an hour ago. Soon he began to stagger and said: “I may, I must lie down, my dove.”
“I’ll help you,” Yusni replied, striding forward and grasping him by an elbow, staggering a bit under is weight as together they staggered over to the bed, she let go, and in a fog of confusion and wine and as sudden after-taste of something bitter; Ramses III fell across the bed, unconscious.
Yusni stole a last lingering glance at the prone form of her lord and gave a graceful bow. “Farwell, my King, may your soul have a better faring to the afterlife than you had in this one.”
And with that Yusni ran for the room to report to her superior that the deed had been done.
Her news was greeted with the grave and but self-satsifed smirk of Lady Teya. To Yusni’s way of thinking in all the years that she had known Teya, although those were admittedly short she had never once seen the lady’s marbled and formidable beauty crack, not even now, when the fruition of all of their scheming was at last near at hand.
In the back of her mind Yusni wondered how long it had taken the older women to cultivate that icy disdain that sculpted look, or if it was all an act. She shivered and pulled her own collar of her dress closer around her own body. Thinking even as she did so, “I should think that this was the only model for ideal woman-hood. I too, have my hopes and dreams, and am not without ambition, but, gods, am not a statue. Or at the very least, I should hope not to become one.’
Although, her own position would rise along with those who had participated in the conspiracy, with a sudden twisting of her own spirit, Yusni, once, just once, wished to see that marble façade crack, just a little for then it might make Teya seem a bit, well, more human and less of a statue.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective, Ramses the Third was not killed instantly and recovering he immediately began to go about ordering an investigation. Much to his chagrin the royal guards had been unable to provide any further information as how or why they had literally fallen asleep at their post. And additional questioning of the royal harem guards and functionaries had proven equally fruitless.
His orders were quite emphatic:
“Make your magnates great, that they may execute your laws; one who is rich in his house will not be one-sided, for he who does not lack is an owner of property; a poor man does not speak truly, and one who says, "Would that I had," is not straightforward; he is one-sided toward the possessor of rewards.”
However, whether he his father’s heart simply gave out at the last, or if the poison that had been administered had simply had a delayed effect, the old man died in his sleep, thrusting his son onto the throne sooner than anyone, least of all himself, had expected.
The son had stood vigil over his father until the very last moment as breath left his body, and only the son heard his father’s last words, having sent away all of the royal and medical attendants.
The words were these: For I am exempted and protected everlastingly, being among the righteous kings who are in the presence of Amen-Re', King of the Gods, and in the presence of Osiris, the Ruler of Eternity.”
“I shall, father, fear not!” Ramses the Fourth emphatically stated. “I shall see to it that justice be done and those responsible be punished!”
“Yes, yes, they shall,” his father murmured more to himself than to his son and heir-apparent, even as he drifted off into a restless drug-induced sleep.
His sleep was not was a restful or as rejuvenating as the doctors might have wished for Ramses the Third tossed and turned, muttering under his breath words and phrases that were too unintelligible to be heard clearly.
To the touch his father’s skin felt cool instead of flushed as he had expected, stretched tight as a drum over the bones of his face. His hands spasmodically clenched and unclenched and he had a feverish look in his eyes even a fever was not yet evident.
Ramses the Fourth, kneeling at his father’s bedside wondered if he should summon a servant to bring him papyrus and a quill pen, if only to record his father’s last words upon this earth. He was uncertain, even in his own mind, if this standing vigil was something he was doing out of filial duty or out of a genuine love for his sire.
‘Either way, ‘he reasoned, ‘it hardly matters at this point. By standing vigil at father’s bedside will look favorably upon me, to the court. Also, at the very least it will impress the common people.’
Close upon the heels of that particular thought came another one, ‘I should at least pray, pray for his recovery or for his passing into the next life? No, not that! The gods tended a bit on the unruly and tempestuous side and it never hurt to pray, and he would do so, lest he tempt fate too far.
The son remained to stand vigil over his father’s bed-side along with the physicians and the court magician until his own exhaustion at last sent to him to seek the comfort of his own bed.
Inspector Errem felt just a little put out by the fact that his superiors had been apprised on the attempt on Ramses the Third’s life only after the fact. That it had failed was not his concern, his concern was to examine the documents turned over to his office and help to identify the guilty parties.
“Still, better late than never,” he muttered under his breath. He was a man of medium build and close cropped black hair and intent black eyes. He prided himself on being meticulous no matter what the task might be.
He sat in his favorite chair behind his desk along with his assistant; Chalk had begun the difficult task of sorting through the documents that had been turned over to them by royal decree. Errem might have preferred a more hands-on approach, such as actually the crime scene, but the harem by its very nature was forbidden territory to men, so this method was their only option.
A sheen of sweat and dust coated his face like a mask as he mentally calculated the various piles on the teak-wood surface of his desk; they had been labeled in Chalk’s neat penmanship: irrelevant, harmless, of interest only to administrators, and to be studied in further detail.
He suddenly slammed a clenched fist down on the surface of the desk and cursed: “Chalk, my friend, do you have any idea how frustrated I feel?
“No, Sir, but I can imagine,” Chalk replied as he tilted his head back and rolled the supple muscles of his shoulders in order to loosen up the tightness of sitting in one place for too long.
“From the very first moment this investigation began it was like we, our entire staff were hunting for the criminals blindfolded. Our efforts hampered not by merely mundane means, but always with the vague impression that just at the very moment I got close enough to touch it; it would disappear.”
“Highly aggravating, Sir,” Chalk replied in his customary unflappable manner.
For Inspector Errem’s part having known and worked alongside the younger man for as long as he had he had yet to see that unflappable manner crumbled under pressure or frustration.
Chalk had risen through the ranks on his own merit and had worked with Inspector Errem for almost four years. Although he had been born to a middle-class but well-off family, he had to own to his own share of ambition and saw that he would do well to attach his fortunes to that of a highly respected investigator such as Errem. Much to both of their mutual benefit, they worked well together, and neither saw fit to make a change at this late stage.
He allowed himself a tiny tight-lipped smile and forced himself to calm down. Getting all hot and bothered under the collar would do no one any good, and would not get him any nearer to solving the case.
“Do you really believe that a conspiracy took place?” Chalk asked after a moment of silent perusal of the documents resumed once more.
“I do, but I am unable to explain why I believe this to be true,” Errem replied.
“If so, it failed, did it not, Ramses the Third was reported to have died in his sleep, according to the proclamation that was released from the palace late last evening,” Chalk said.
“I know, I know,” Errem replied as he held a sheaf of delicate scripted papyri is his hand and then felt a shudder of apprehension run through his nerve endings.
He hung onto to the papers with both hands them and by the light of the afternoon sun coming in through the leaded panes of his office window, finally found the evidence he’d been looking for. He grimaced in distaste.
And not because of the meaning behind the details and names that had been written on the documents. Royal intrigue and conniving was held to be a common practice among the nobility and even truer among the residents of the royal harem, so he wasn’t that surprised that another one was in the works. However, he the distaste stemmed from the visceral sense he’d had that whoever had been behind the attempt on Ramses the Third’s life, had employed an almost absurd amount of black magic.
In the back of his mind Errem thought with a grimace, ‘What dire straits would bring an individual to actively and eagerly seek out the workings of black magic? What emptiness of the spirit would join treachery with that dark art? Is it not enough to deal in treason and murder without adding magic into the mix? But, no, one can deny the evidence that has been presented to me.’
“Chalk, my friend, I believe we have discovered what we needed to know. Somehow I almost wish we had not done so, but the fact remains we must bring this matter to the attention on the royal magistrates.”
Chalk nodded. “It is our duty.”
“Ah yes, duty, thank you Chalk for reminding me of what is important in this life,” Errem replied, reaching forward to shake the hand of his assistant.
“You are welcome, Sir,” replied Chalk, “but if I may be so bold, you have ever been my model of what duty should look like, from dress to the service of our order.”
Errem blushed. “You do flatter me so, but perhaps this case has placed an undue amount of strain on all us, go home and get some sleep. We will pick up again come the morrow.”
They would stir up the populace, as he well know, a mob once it got its momentum going is very difficult and very dangerous to stop, the plan being to use the cover of the confusion to kill two birds with one stone.
The Major Domo of the Royal Guards, Paibekkamen stood at the head of long columns of his troops a tight-lipped smile creasing the lines of his craggy face and seemed, by all accounts to find it good. If he had harbored any second-thoughts about the present undertaking at this late date; he hid it very well.
In his own mind the only thing that concerned him was that regardless of the dubious nature of the task; namely the storming of the Royal Palace and the overthrow and eventual assignation of both Ramses the Third and the legitimate heir to the throne; now that he was committed, he would see it through.
One might even conceivably that as a soldier, one almost nearing retirement and a pension, that it would be treason to even contemplate such a course of action, but matters could not continue as they were. The signs of the disintegration of the current regime were all around them, and it was evident to anyone with even half a brain that the Ramses Dynasty was nothing more than a rotten fruit primed to drop from the vine.
The long columns made a brave and martial sight lined up as they were in full armor with the banners of their units fluttering in the air above their heads. It so happened that the conspirators had timed the storming of the palace at the time of a military drill so that no one would think to question it.
Interspersed throughout the columns of soldiers were the townsfolk, artisans, merchants, even those with less the reputable enterprises, all had been approached and promised rewards according to their merits and desires should the coup succeed, required that they keep their mouths shut as to the two-fold conspiracy.
Although it was only to be expected that not all would the embrace the cause as their own, enough would. The Major Domo was reflecting on this even as he bellowed at the top of his lungs the order to march. ‘So it begins,’ he thought and then shoved the errant thought into a back corner of his mind.
Ramses III was in his map room along with his son going over the division of territory accompanied by the ministers whose responsibility included the dispensation of grain, rice, and other staples of daily life.
The windows of the map room happened to look out to the west; and then strode over to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows were the first rays of moonlight outlined the frame in a delicate filigree.
A short while later his son joined him. “What is that noise?” the young man asked.
“It sounds like the Nile in high flood.” Ramses the IV had been born in the time of a high flood season and swore that he could hear it like in his blood like a second heart beat. His father called the notion sheer nonsense.
“Wrong time of year for that, is it not?” Ramses remarked off-handedly, distracted by other matters, such as the harvest and whether it would prudent to raise taxes on the general populace once more, and also if he should levy the militia of the far-flung provinces of the empire.
“Indeed, then what could be the cause for it?” Ramses the Fourth questioned, irked at the nonchalance in the older man’s voice.
He would soon get his answer to that question, sooner than he might have liked, for the roaring that had begun as dull throbbing soon peaked into a crescendo, accompanied by the beating of drums and the raised voices of a mob. From their vantage point it appeared as long and winding could of serpent twisting its coils along the road that lead up to the palace’s front doors.
Concern had not yet turned into alarm when those doors; made to withstand the heaviest and most determined battering ram, gave way to the force of the mob.
“Perhaps we should relocate to a more secure area,” his son remarked.
Ramses the Fourth suddenly felt a prickling of the fine black hairs at the back of his neck and a buzzing sound in his hears. As the heir-apparent he had been given the rudimentary training in the arts of soldering and combat, and sometimes felt as if he was being treated differently by the captains and the other soldiers because of his rank; but even he could recognize when the tide of battle was going against one, so why was his father being so damn stubborn?
“I will not run from a mob,” his father scoffed. Ramses the Third had survived any number of attempts on his life, some subtler, some not, and he was reasonably certain, both from his own experience and his counselors that this particular uprising would have much in common with the spring tide of the great Nile river, brief and furious while it lasted, but soon subsiding. He had no reason to think otherwise, why should he?
“Do you what you wish father, I will go to summon those loyal to the throne and protect you. Let it not be misunderstood that I fear a mob. I have read that a mob, by its very nature will most often turn upon itself, because it soon loses all collective control.”
“Indeed,” his father replied as he turned from the window and stepped back into the center of the room, standing with his feet set wide apart and his arms crossed over his chest. “The royal guard will soon deal with this rabble, so we have little to fear from them.”
“As you wish, father,” his son replied and bowed, leaving the room, wishing that his father had taken his warning a little more seriously.
In the back of his mind Ramses IV thought that his premonition of impending peril had been nothing more than a passing fancy, one that he could shrug off like the coarse and bawdy jokes shared between the soldiers of the barracks; but he knew without being able to explain exactly how he did so, that this might very well be the last time he saw his father alive.
He left the map room, the glimmer of unshed tears gleaming from his eyes.
His father’s arrogant stance, if over-confident would prove to be his undoing as hours later, the mob broke into the map room and tore Ramses III limb from limb.
It so happened that his son’s rather laconic but prophetic analysis of a mob mentality had been borne out after all. But then that was the effect of hindsight: it gave one perfect vision after it was too late, far, far, too late for it to do one any good.
Straddling the invisible membrane between the world of the living and the world of the gods a pair of figures stood across from each other over a table set with the rectangular board game of senet. The pieces were of ivory bone carved with hieroglyphs and the pieces had been taken out of the drawer on one side. Although by this point in the game not all of thirty laid out in three rows of ten had been filled. The pieces were shaped like cones and the aim was not take one’s opponent’s pieces but to progress through the board back to the starting point.
A hand heavily laden with pearls, emeralds and gold rings lifted a piece and relocated it from its previous resting spot into a new location. Across from the owner of that hand a scowl appeared on his opponent’s face, marring its delicate but deceptively strong beauty.
“You really shouldn’t scowl, so, my dear,’ the other remarked.
“Why, because we’ve playing this game for eons, and I weary of it, betimes,” Sekhmet growled. Called the Devouring Lady whose aspect was most often depicted with the body of a beautiful woman and the head of lion, she reached forward and made her own move. She then leaned back in her chair once that had been accomplished.
An unfelt wind fluttered the curtains of the costly drapes and Thoth sighed. The game was said to be a representation, a house as much that of the construct in which they played. Not even the gods and goddesses were certain as to who had created the game in the first place, but Thoth for one had his suspicions and he did take playing it quite seriously. In the world of the living forces of unrest and change were on the move, and he and those other gods and goddesses who felt as he did, knew that a storm of unrest should not be ignored.
Thoth made another move, wondering if that self-satisfied smirk that creased her ruby-red lips was an indication that his greater game was as transparent to her as the curtains in his chamber. If so, he and those who sided with him might very well be undone before than even had a chance to affect the outcome of the moves made by the world of the living.
At the precise moment Sekhmet held one of the bone pieces within the two middle fingers of her right hand, regarding it as she turned it to the light, before setting it down on one of the squares. She uttered a low growl and then looked up to meet Thoth’s own bemused stare. “Dearest Thoth, I have time to think over what you said earlier, about metaphor, and the difference between being and seeming.”
“And,” he prompted trying not to see where this was leading. As a scholar he had a profound respect for discourse and opposing views, and at that moment, although he played senet with any number of opponents in their centuries, even eons of existence, at this critical juncture, he just may have underestimate her.
“It is my conclusion, that appearances can often be deceiving,” she finished and then sketched a delicate bow as she stood and left the game room. “May the best player win.”
Thoth stood up as well and bowed in return. “Indeed.” He watched her leave and then even though he had no need to do so, wiped sweat from his brow with his forearm, hoping against hope that the forces in play had not already stolen a march on him and those who had sided with him.
Inspector Errem was getting closer to identifying those behind the two-fold conspiracy and one evening decided to take a walk around his neighborhood to clear his head and get some fresh air.
He had enjoyed about a half an hour of this when a prickling of the tiny black hairs at the back of his neck signaled that he was not alone. This was not unusual, although not the capital, Thebes was still one of the grandest cities in the empire and even at the late hour many people would still be out and about’ so at first, he thought nothing more of it, and continued on his way.
When the prickling sensation came once more, stronger this time, Errem patted at the waistband of his trousers for the knife that he kept concealed there as a matter of course and glanced around’ still nothing. Peering into the lengthening shadows interspersed as they were by the lights of lamps and torches he could have sworn that he glimpsed the upright shapes of someone moving from one concealing shadow to another. If he was indeed being followed, he would prefer to face it head on, not like this. “Come out!
Which they did, numbering more than he had expected; ‘No matter,’ he thought as he drew his dagger from its sheath at his belt. The dagger was a service able, commonly issued to those in his department, which he kept sucrpously clean and sharpened. His attackers began to circle him and with several fanning out to cut off any possible routes of escape. He noted that they carried various types of weapons, from bladed, to quarterstaff, and even a shepherd’s crook. All the same, with ill intent any of the above implements could be turned into a weapon.
Errem then said: “If you want me, come and get me.”
“You must then, have a death-wish,” the leader, whose build and mannerism resembled that of an oxen stated as he regarded the much shorter chief inspector with mingled threat and contempt.
Meanwhile Inspector Errem also sized up the leader and his men, a half dozen, not too many, but still a little much for one man alone, armed only with a dagger. The leader small close-set eyes were red-rimmed, either from rage or too much drink; more than likely both, thought Errem even as he prepared his initial defense.
With a low growl the motley crew came for him, and he held his own for a good while, lashing out to his right, left and flanks, but he knew that he was only delaying the inevitable, because he would soon be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. He was pressed further and further back almost toppling over the framework of a shuttered market stall and his breath was coming into harsher and harsher gasps.
“Why are you doing this,” he demanded during a brief lull in the fight.
“Because we can,” the leader replied.
“Not much of a reason,” Errem remarked disdainfully and crouched his body into a fighting stance. It was hardly the first time nor probably would it be the last time he would be menaced at night by street toughs or even the guards; still there was no reason to take any unnecessary risks.
At a crucial moment when it appeared that his number was indeed up and he would die without ever having the satisfaction of completing his investigation; he hated leaving work unfinished, be it personal or professional, a thundering sound ripped through the silence of the night.
A blinding light dazzled the eyes and for a moment he knew no more. When he could see once more it was to witness the bewildered and disoriented attackers fleeing in all directions for their very lives. Much to his chagrin it was not because of anything he had down to intimidate them and run them off, but because he saw an ibis-headed figure standing over his prone body.
His life was spared by a timely intervention by the Gods, and while he is effusively grateful Errem was at the same time astounded that they would take an interest in what from all appearances is yet another in a series of machinations. Why this one?
“You could not understand our motives behind what we do, mortal,” replied Thoth in measured and reasonable tones. “Suffice to say that events have reached a certain pass, and we must needs intervene. If it is any comfort you will have a part to play.”
Thoth had taken on the appearance of a very tall, dignified older man, thin but with the appearance of a scholar as befitted his known aspects. For this particular manifestation he did not sport the head of an ibis, but instead had donned the face of a human whose black hair was streaked with a hint of gray through the otherwise pitch black strands.
“My Lord, Thoth, I do appreciate your timely intervention, in the saving of my humble life, but I must question why you are taking such an interest in mortal events.” Errem hope that his tone of the question was sufficiently respectful. It would never do to offend a deity, especially a powerful one, because one could never for certain at what they would take offense at.
Thoth nodded and although he knew that he could never explain all the reasons for his intervention some sort of explanation was required.
Insepctor Errem had come to his attention because he had an orderly mind, and a dedication to seeking out the truth no matter how unpleasant it might be; his life had indeed been in danger and not just because of his profession.
With his divine sight into the hearts and minds of mortals Thoth had known even if the man had not, that those ruffians had been sent by those who wished to see the dynasty of Ramses come to an end. Not that he cared a whit for Ramses the man himself, but the natural order of things was dangerously out of balance, and steps had to be taken to prevent matters from teetering even further into chaos.
“Because order must be maintained,” he said aloud.
Errem nodded. “What can I do to help?” He had managed to get to his feet without assistance, which came as something as a relief, although a bit dismayed by the numerous blood and dirt stains on his tunic and slacks. He was sweaty and the moisture coupled with the heat of the oncoming day made his clothes stick to his body like a second skin. As uncomfortable and as conscious of his disheveled appearance, still, it far preferable to be alive than dead, there was still work to be done and no rest this side of the mortal veil.
“A conspiracy is in the works, one that threatens all of the Two Lands,” she said.
“I know, but I must I am a bit stymied in my investigation….” Errem began and then was forced to trail off when another blinding flash of light and Thoth was joined by the goddesses Ma’at and Sheshat.
Both were clad in royal finery, their sleek black hair polished to a highly reflective gleam, but staring too long into those old but knowing eyes a man could rapidly lose all sense of himself and the inspector was forced to look away, his cheeks flushing with shame. He felt out of his depth, caught up as he now was in events too large for one man, but these were the hand that had been dealt, there was no other path around it.
It was as if time and circumstance had placed these obstacles in his path, and he could either move forward, around, but never back.
Inspector Errem felt faintness come over him once more but he fought it off. How often did one come into contact with god and goddesses; and while he was prone to be a skeptic by nature he could certainly not deny the evidence of his own eyes.
*Greetings, brother,’ one said in ringing tones that rang out through the night. “It would seem that you have anticipated us, and while I might as soon become angry at you for stealing a march on me, I will let it go, this time.”
“Indeed, more pressing matters are afoot, then preeminence,” Ma’at added.
“Forgive me,” Errem remarked, but I do not understand. What can I do, humble mortal that I am, do to help?” Something that he had learned from his own grandfather that came to his mind at this juncture, that when confronted with either the supernatural, the divine, or both, it was the most prudent course of action to remain focus on the practicalities, otherwise one would no doubt go stark raving mad attempting to reconcile the idiosyncrasies.
Ma’at shrugged her shoulders, her hair falling over her face like a black velvet curtain as she pondered over her next words before saying aloud: “The world is in a delicate balance, a tipping point has been reached and it could either way.”
Sheshat nodded and said: “It has been revealed to us through certain signs and that another contingent among the Gods would rather that the cabal succeeds in their goals.”
For his own part Inspector Errem did not want to add yet another wrinkle to the case and caused him to grit his teeth and wonder if was too late to back out now.
“I am going to have extreme difficulty putting that down in an official report,” Erem remarked as he led the way to his unit’s headquarters.
“In all things, their season,” Sheshat remarked, “Remember that, if you will.”
In the meantime Lady Teya was getting a visitor of a far different nature and an equally different temperament.
She had been occupied with making up her face, the high-cheek bones that had made her such a remarkable beauty for so long, outlined in the gleaming light of lamps scattered throughout the chamber. She stood beside her low chest, strewn with metal mirrors, pots and jars for cosmetics, tweezers, razors, and combs. Teya had lavished most of her attention on her eyes, a paste of ground minerals of malachite and galena applied in heavy lines over the eyebrows and around the eyes by means of a little bone rod. The effect was dramatic but tasteful, much like the lady herself.
“To what do I owe this uh, visitation?” Teya remarked.
“While we do so admire ambition and the wit to not only expedites that ambition into a reality, I must remind you Lady Teya that your plot is unraveling at the seams.” Sekhmet stated, and her silken voice it was almost but not quite the growl of a hungry lioness.
To her credit Lady Teya’s renowned and remarkable composure, often attributed to that of a marble statue, among her detractors, only showed a hair-line fracture of crumbling under both the questioning and the baleful glare of the two goddesses.
“If it may please my lady, things would not have reached the tipping point, had it not been for me and those loyal to me.”
“My, may, the mortal has claws, and while we should admire such ferocity, brashness cannot go unpunished,” Bast growled.
“Should this conspiracy ever come to light the consequences could well be fatal, and while I am quite aware that as mortals that term means something entirely different to me than it does to you….”
“Enough, I shall demand my pound of flesh,” Bast growled.
“Do I take this to mean that should we fail, I will be the one made to pay the highest penalty?” Teya asked.
Her composure, up to this point, unwavering, faltered slightly as could be evidenced by the slight tremor in the rigid muscles of her shoulders. “Do you not think that I have considered the risks and the potential gains, and have found them acceptable!” she suddenly shouted.
Teya was in the grip of a rising fury, the cracks in her legendary marble façade widening with each passing second. “Had I been born a man, this would not have been necessary! Instead as a woman, but with the heart of a lion, I must needs resort to subterfuge to accomplish my goals.”
Bast growled her approval. “Peace, lady, we admire ambition and the desire to see it accomplished, perhaps we have all of eternity forgot that mortals live only a short span upon this earth.”
“It does remind me that the first phase of the plan came to naught, and the second phase while much more satisfying only eliminated the old snake, while the young snake still lives,” Shekmet replied folding her arms over her chest.
“The game is afoot,” Teya remarked suddenly, her sudden fury dissipating as quickly as it had come on. “And for better or worse it shall be concluded sooner rather than later.”
“I am loath to reveal any further details of our, shall we call it alliance? Shekmet stated rather more calmly than she had been from the moment of her whirlwind entrance, not in the least disturbed at the thought of anyone else listening into their conversation. “However, as you have said in times past since we began to play this game of power and position; we must continue to exercise caution.
“Yet,” Bast growled. “Do we have competition? One that would dare challenge us?”
“Always, consider one’s opposition, if there is one thing playing senet with that old fool, Thoth, has taught me, always consider what one’s opponent might be thinking, and then think at least ten moves ahead of him.”
“Fair enough, you have convinced, my sister,” Bast replied.
“Yes, for so too, as the mortals play this game, so too, do the immortals, and I should like to emerge the victor. Call it pride, call it for the sake of a task well done.”
“Very well, I endorse this course of action,” Bast replied.
Shekmet nodded to her ally and nodded. “So, we are resolved.”
“I do so enjoy the savory taste of a good hunt,” Bast remarked as they disappeared back into the ether. “Although at this point, I hazard that it is anyone’s guess as whether one is predator or prey.”
“You, my dear sister, shall always be a predator.”
The Trial and the The Evidence
The room was large, large enough that one would become lost among the patterns of light and dark on the intricately tiled ceiling; that same pattern repeated on the floor as well.
A row of magistrates elected by edict by Ramses IV close on the heels of his own father’s untimely death sat in judgment over the accused in the White House that also served double duty as the Royal Treasury. Some among them questioned as to the provenance of the evidence brought before them; but wiser heads then even theirs prevailed. These were delicate matters and the accused had once held prominent and powerful influential positions.
In sonorous tones that might have better suited those of an actor in a staged performance, Magistrate Pankimena read out one of the names inscribed upon the papyrus in a fine calligraphy.
Paibekkamen who had formerly held the rank of major-domo in an elite unit of the royal guard was then brought in.
“It is alleged that he had made common cause with them and proceeded to carry their words outside to their families and relations and the general populace were saying:
'Collect people and foment hostility so as to make rebellion against their lord. Pentewere was brought in because of his collusion with Queen Teya, his mother, when she discussed the words with the women of the harem and having been a party to it.”
“How much did you know about the two-fold conspiracy?” the chief magistrate asked, narrowing his beady little eyes.
Paibekkamen, for his part, held the line of his spine as ramrod straight as if he were under inspection, or leading his troops into battle, not for him to show any sign of weakness or fear before these court functionaries. As a veteran of many battles, most won, some lost, he realized that as piece upon the board of the Great Game, he had played his part and all that remained was to face the consequences. All he had left was his name, his honor and his life. His life, ah yes, that they could take him from with a word, with a stroke of a quill pen; his honor, that he would take with him into the next life and beyond.
“Were you complicit in the attack on the palace, and in stirring up the populace against the throne,” another questioned, in his couch raised as it was above the cold marble floor where both petitioners and their legal counsel and all other witness came before the magistrates, stood or sat, this personage in his stately robes appeared to put on an air of benevolence and understanding. It was as if by doing so, he could more readily encourage those accused to confess to their crimes.
“Yes,” the soldier replied.
“Do you fully understand the consequences of your actions?”
“Yes. I understood the risks involved and found them acceptable!” Paibekkamen’s outburst echoed and bounced off from wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling in the cavernous chamber before order at last was restored.
The magistrate with the beady eyes that would not have been out of place on the visage of a vulture suddenly changed his line of questioning and asked what he believed to be a telling question. “Or rather, you did not care who sat on the throne, only that it gave you the opportunity to sense the power that you otherwise would not have had?”
The mutterings of his fellow magistrates and the gathered crowd of assistants and accused and those already subject to prosecution breathed through the dusty air of the chamber, and in that tense and hushed atmosphere sound almost as loud and startling as a drumbeat.
With a deep sigh and his arms crossed over his massive chest the veteran soldier calmly remarked: “I did make common cause, but it was a case that of no longer being able to tolerate a rule that was choking on its corruption. Ramses dynasty had to come to an end, and if must die for this, then so be it.”
Waiting for his turn, Pentawere, Queen Teya’s son felt, not with reason that his own worth had been diminished in his own eyes.
He bowed his head and felt his own sweat make his tunic stick to his torso like a second skin. Perhaps he had been naïve, perhaps he had allowed his formidable mother to lead him around by the nose; but the rewards for doing so had never been clearer in his own mind. If she had been ambitious if over-zealous, what then, did that make of him? Ambitious, willing to take the throne, yes, oh yes. As everyone with half a brain knew that the world abhorred the vacuum of power, and with the toppling of the Ramses Dynasty that vacuum was more than ever a factor.
“I , I have, no defense,” he stammered, surprised at the strange phenomenon of his own mind split into two, one the stammered and sweated through this board of inquiry, who could offer nothing more than a lame excuse for his own actions, or inaction as the case may be. The other was a calm, analytic observer who scowled internally and scoffed at the outward self who caved in to the pressure.
“Then you, of your own free will, admit to complicity in this manner?”
“Yes, Yes, I do.” Pentaware nodded and then subsided once more into a sullen silence.
“So it has been said, so it shall be,” another magistrate stated and reached up to cover both of his eyes with the palms of his hands, and then lowered them to his side once more. An assistant who stood beside him had been tasked with the recording of each strange twist and turn of the proceedings, made an involuntary gasp but quickly recovered his composure at a stern look from his superior.
When he was questioned as to the whereabouts of his lady mother he also proved to be remarkably close-mouthed. The magistrates stymied by his refusal to enlighten them further on this matter were forced to abandon this line of questioning.
At that moment a messenger arrived with a rolled papyrus and when it was opened the answer to that question was that Lady Teya and Yusni, who had once been called an Ornament of the Royal Court, had taken their own lives by poison, instead of submitting themselves to inquiry.
The magistrate with the beady eyes and the hunched shoulders of a vulture made a chance remark that he hoped did not make into the official documented record that it was a pity that they had been denied the opportunity to cross-examine Queen Teya and the other court women.
Again according to the messenger, when the bodies were discovered by the royal harem guards the hue and cry had been tremendous, but when the royal physician and the court magician had been called in to verify that women were indeed dead, neither of the two gentlemen could find any trace of the poison in their systems and left, shaking their heads at being confounded, even by the manner of their passing.
“It must have been magic,” they concluded helplessly.
“What difference does it make?” Penteware demanded, suddenly finding the confidence that thus far he had shown to be sadly lacking. “Magic or no, there is no possibly manner in which you can prove it.”
With that utterance his posture improved and there was a flash of short-lived defiance in his almond-shaped eyes, and for a moment it appeared as if he would say more, but the spark faded, his shoulders slumped and he began to shuffle his feet on the tiled floor once more.
“Good or bad, or indifferent, this lies outside of our jurisdiction,” another remarked and shrugged his shoulders in a fatalistic matter. “What else can we do, but our duty?”
Inspector Errem, concentrating in order to follow as best he could the entire complex in-and outs of the trail from the sidelines could only shake his head and sigh.
The young man had the distant fey look of one who has taken poison and knows that he will soon die, and yet, did not care.
“The document clearly states that it was not the magistrates' or the king's responsibility that the conspirators had to be killed, it was the conspirators fault.”
“Are you then implying that a sentence of death was brought upon them by the conspirators themselves?” The magistrate who had asked this question looked more than surprised that this idea had not occurred to any of them prior to this moment in the trial.
Still, it was far too late to back out now. He also had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that they would have to send down a sentence of death for all the conspirators who had not already chosen to take their own lives instead of face justice, was inevitable.
Inspector Errem shook his head once more and wondered that if, in his earnest desire to pursue the truth of the case to the fullest extent of the law and his own jurisdiction. Was it possible that he might have made a dreadful mistake somewhere along the line.
‘But then, only the Gods truly have all answers and they were capricious at best, just look at this current mess! ‘ he thought.
In the back of his mind Inspector Errem thought “I am as pious as I can hope to be, but in my line of work one must also be meticulous and rational; however, never let it be said that neglect my duty to those on high.
However, after this I will leave them alone if they leave me alone. And we shall all be much the better for it.’
“What are you going to do now, Inspector Errem?” asked Chalk, his assistant who had accompanied his superior to the trial.
Errem sighed, one that appeared to begin at the soles of his feet, travel up his legs, through his torso and ending in the roots of his hair. “I am going home, and I shall hope to place these unsavory events as far from my mind as possible.”
Chalk nodded as if the answer had not been entirely unexpected. “Did a divine one really intervene for your life when you were attacked in that back alley near the palace?”
In his mind Chalk, his own longing for action and adventure in the course of his duty having been more than adequately satisfied by the events of the past few weeks, still had trouble wrapping his head around his chief’s recounting of his encounter with the god Thoth, and the goddesses Ma’at and Sheshat. Something like that only happened in stories, not in the every-day working life, it was incredible, and he simply could not get enough of hearing all about it.
As remarkable as it was, as eager as he was to hear Errem tell about it, still he knew that his superior was a skeptic, and was no doubt wise not to place too much trust in the workings of either coincidence or the supernatural.
“I warned you not to speak of that to anyone!” Errem hissed under his breath, but again, he had always held onto to his reputation as a truthful, often times blunt and reasonable man, and lacking any binding oaths to the contrary was forced to utter nothing but the truth. “Yes, and I will freely admit to you, good Chalk, that it was a highly diverting experience. I am grateful, uncommonly grateful to the Lords Above, but from this moment out, I fervently pray that they leave me and mine alone!”
“I shall so pray, Sir!” Chalk exclaimed as they departed the cavernous hall together.
The spring season had come and gone in the royal city of Thebes along with the harvest, and not to put too fine a point on the matter, it had been a bitter one.
Blood had been spilt in the heart of the empire, and lives had been lost. It was a somber and much less an occasion of pomp and circumstances that saw the entire royal retinue returns from Thebes back to the heart of the empire. It would be remarked upon by all and sundry that one would never have occasion to celebrate Heb Sed again: for one dynasty had toppled and the newly ruler, had yet to establish his. Only time would tell, what would happen on the morrow.
The vacuum of power had been quick to be filled, forcing the palace functionaries to extraordinary amounts of work to calm down the populace in the aftermath of the aborted conspiracy and coup. And for a while, life returned to normal in the Two Lands, for a while at least.
Notes: The information about the Harem Conspiracy which actually did take place was found on a Wikpedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harem_conspiracy
The details that scholars were able to glean from that time were found in document dating from that time period called the Papyrus of Turin, here: http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/judicial_turin_papyrus.htm
Note: The papyrus is the actual court document, which states the outcome of each and every conspirator. The document even includes the punishment of seven magistrates who betrayed the king and were subdued to blackmail by military associates, they were caught and charged.
Note: The Judicial Papyrus of Turin is the main source of evidence that the Harem Conspiracy occurred. Written over 3,000 years ago is it one of the few papyri that archeologists have left of the Harem Conspiracy. Overall the Judicial Papyrus of Turin contains a list of twenty seven men and six women who were charged with high treason, five men charged with treason against the throne.
The gods/goddesses that step in to take any interest in the events in the story were based on facts and information that I found in a book on World Mythology dealing with the Egyptian Myths. Again, these are, of course, my own interpretation of them. Although, while I think myths are generally thought to be in the public domain, I do not ‘own’ them, and so I claim only the words of the actual story here.
Reference: “Red Land, Black Land” by Barbara Mertz