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Two Gardens

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egypt

Some mornings Inanni cried.

If one of her ladies saw the tears standing in her eyes, there was fluttering dismay and a rush to find something to cheer her spirits. Assurances that today would be the day that Thutmose would send for her, or sweetmeats pressed upon her despite the early hour, or songs of her homeland (which only made the tears worse).

After everything changed – after Mara turned out to be a spy (and then became a Countess), and Thutmose became Pharoah, and Inanni’s future became as gossamer-ephemeral as her past – Inanni stopped letting her ladies see her tears.

Now when she woke with a smile on her lips, about to sing out to her sisters with a cheerful morning greeting, sure in her bones that she was in her own home surrounded by the people she loved, she dressed and went to the gardens. It was quiet there, and she could lift her face to the sunshine.

Egypt was still a foreign land. It didn’t feel like home, smell like home, or taste like home. Inanni ached with the injustice of it all, wrenched from her home on a diplomatic whim, denied even the glittering marriage and indulgent motherhood that she had constructed her hopes upon. Here in this bright austere land she would be tucked away, forgotten; already Thutmose was hot-bent on placing his personal stamp on his realm and sweeping away his sister’s memory. He had no time or inclination for her.

Not that Inanni wanted either, not anymore. Her visions of a happy marriage had been so much gleaming white sand, swept away in the wind. Thutmose was not who she had imagined, had so desperately needed to imagine – but perhaps Inanni was not the homesick, heartsick girl she had felt herself to be, either. She must be strong now, she vowed, for both herself and for her ladies, marooned with her in this faraway land.

So on the mornings that she cried, she turned her face into the sunshine and pretended the telltale pricking was simply the light glaring off the sand.

~//~

Inanni had not looked for a visit from Mara this soon after Mara’s wedding. All was in turmoil at Thutmose’s court; her garden seemed the last quiet place left. Mara certainly had better things to do than visit one discarded princess.

But Mara sat beside her in the garden, and reached out to touch her hand, and didn’t let go.

“Of course I still want to go home,” Inanni said, hearing the blood rush in her ears. “But I know I can’t.”

How could she return to Canaan, a discarded princess Thutmose couldn’t bear to marry? Her family would see it as an affront, her return as dishonor. She would be unmarriageable, and her family might very well rise in revolt. Though she might pine for her home as it was, it could never again be returned to her. Life had changed, and she must change with it.

And after all, Inanni was not the only Canaanite in Egypt. She would make friends, she told herself, and create a new circle of laughter and love, treasured recipes and rollicking songs, adopted godchildren to dandle on her knee. It was not the end for her, only a new sort of beginning.

“I don’t know,” Mara said, and squeezed Inanni’s hand.

When Mara had been only her interpreter, such comfort might have been seen as overstepping her place; now that she was the Countess Sheftu, and a dear friend, it was most welcome.

“How can I return?” Inanni asked. “I would like to. I would like to very much. But I don’t think it’s practical, and oh dear, I must be practical now, mustn’t I?”

She especially must take care not to fall in love with Thutmose again. She had been through that all already, in love with her fanciful idea of him – and though his opinion of her might be slightly higher now than it had been before, she harbored no illusions that the intelligent powerful gaze of his eyes would ever be turned upon her with a lover’s light.

Perhaps he would find another Egyptian noble to marry her, since he didn’t want her himself. Her family would still consider a substitution to be a rude gesture, but given the change in his circumstances – and the inadvisability of infuriating a powerful emperor – would surely accept the chance to save face.

Inanni hoped her new husband would be not too old, and kind. She couldn’t hope for the likes of Sheftu, but a medium-aged, kindly husband would be enough. And there might be children. Though she was trying to become reconciled to the prospect of never having children, in case Thutmose didn’t choose to allow her to marry, she did so long for them.

(Even though the thought of having terrifyingly superior half-Egyptian children was a bit daunting. She would have to make sure to keep the Canaanite side in them too.)

But Mara was speaking again. “If you want to return to Canaan,” she said, her hand still resting on Inanni’s, “I will find a way. Sheftu has promised to help. And I won’t let him forget his promise.”

Inanni had seen the way Lord Sheftu’s eyes watched his bride, all warmth and protectiveness and laughter. She had seen the way Mara had him wound around her finger.

Against her better judgement, the little bird of hope in her breast began to trill once again.

Mara was so idealistic, though. She flung herself into harm’s way with the full weight of her convictions, but little consideration for her own safety. It had helped to change the course of a kingdom, but Inanni wasn’t sure if that sort of luck could be relied on to hold. Did Mara fully understand the practical difficulties of returning a princess with everyone’s honor and respect intact? Could Inanni really return to her old life, as effortlessly as slipping into an old pair of sandals?

But no. Whether she returned or not, Inanni was changed.

“I have thought so much about what I will do,” Inanni said, looking into Mara’s clear eyes. “I hoped I could return, but in my secret heart it never seemed possible.”

Even now it hardly seemed possible. She could almost feel her mother’s embrace, taste the feast her family would throw, hear her sisters’ laughter – but she could also feel the unyielding Egyptian sunshine and smell the faint delicacy of Mara’s perfume, and she didn’t know which felt more real.

“I will miss you,” Mara said, raising Inanni’s hand to her lips. The kiss was feather-light against Inanni’s fingers, and Inanni felt the blush rising on her cheeks. Egyptians were so bold!

“I will miss you too,” Inanni said, and meant it with all her heart.

~//~

canaan

There were still some mornings that Inanni cried.

Fewer mornings. But still, Inanni was a woman of strong feelings, and sometimes the sunrise or a trill of laughter outside or a glimpse of one of her Egyptian mementos would bring it all flooding back. On those mornings, she let herself weep a little, for the friends she had made and left behind, for the heightened emotional drama of those days, for the good memories that over the years had become stronger than the bad.

Then she smiled at herself, wiped her eyes, and went out into the morning sunshine.

On this particular morning, however, there were no tears. Inanni had been making herself ready all morning, and still when Mara was announced she was all in a flutter. It had been fifteen years since she had seen Mara last, and yet it seemed like yesterday.

“Inanni!”

Mara looked the same as she ever had. Too skinny (but Egyptians found that look beautiful, Inanni reminded herself), her familiar face as attractive as ever, her smile as warm. Inanni felt her own smile leaping into an answer, the years falling away in an instant.

“Welcome to my home,” Inanni said, stepping forward and pulling Mara into an embrace. They were in Canaan now, and if she wanted to greet her friend with love, she would do it like a Canaanite. To Inanni, that always meant a great deal of embraces.

Mara hugged her back, holding her close. “Oh Inanni,” she said, “I am so happy that we meet again.”

They had managed it in the end, sending Inanni back with an exceptional amount of pomp and circumstance as a Special Ambassador between the Egyptian and Canaanite peoples, Thutmose’s Beloved Sister. It had been highly extraordinary – but somehow Mara and Sheftu’s careful negotiations had paid off. Perhaps because of the scale of their effrontery! Inanni wasn’t quite sure; all she knew was that she still periodically received dry letters from Thutmose to “Our Beloved Sister,” and she smiled every time.

But the price of going back to Canaan was losing Mara.

Now, their long-awaited reunion in progress, Inanni hugged Mara closer, and rejoiced that she and Sheftu had at last traveled to Canaan. To be sure, it was because Thutmose was mounting a war against Inanni’s neighbors, so perhaps she shouldn’t be glad for the circumstances that brought them here; but then again, the neighbors had been in revolt for a while now, so perhaps it was only justice.

Anyway, Inanni was always practical. She would use the visit of her Beloved Brother to get everything for her people that she could.

(And for herself, she intended to enjoy Mara and Sheftu’s visit as much as ever she was able.)

“You must meet your little namesake,” Inanni said, when at last she held Mara at arm’s length again. “She knows so many stories about you.”

Mara laughed, her eyes shining. From her letters, Inanni knew that Mara was a mother thrice over, but she wouldn’t have known it from Mara’s face, as young and bright as ever. “I have presents for everyone,” she said.

Inanni linked their arms and led Mara out to the garden, her own Canaanite garden, where her daughters sat in a row like little ducklings, all wearing their best clothes and their most sainted expressions.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, as they walked together.

The year and a half she spent in Egypt seemed lifetimes ago now, a world away. But Inanni had not forgotten a single moment of it, and especially not the friendship of the woman at her side, her Mara.

“I’ve missed you too,” Mara said, and pressed her hand.

Inanni smiled, her heart full, lifting her face into the sunshine.

~//~