Time proceeds in a circle. This is an immutable truth.
It is also true that the slightest shift in the breeze can send that circle spiralling in another direction. A few too many raindrops can drown out the Iteru’s life giving inundation. Too few raindrops and the Iteru remains quiescent, withholding sustenance. Time is just as beholden to these vagaries of fate.
The pharaoh’s family represents the gods, here, in these two lands. As can be seen with the gods, the children of pharaohs may find themselves at the heart of multiple tales. All of these tales have happened.
In death, Sehener is everything.
In death, Sehener is nothing.
Her existence is reduced to a jackle’s pair of liquid-dark eyes. She tries to shape the name, uncertain if it would be blasphemy. Uncertain if she even has breath to speak.
“Be at peace, daughter of pharaohs. I am here to guide you to Ma’at. If your heart is lighter than a feather, then I will continue to guide you on to the Duat.”
On earth, Sehener had been trapped in flesh fashioned on Khnum’s pottery wheel. Even those with ichor in their veins had to spend their days like this. Here, in this netherworld, she is so free she might vanish like honey poured into boiling water.
“There was a decision that brought you here, to your after life. Do you recall it?” Anubis asks.
And Sehener does.
Sehener and Sekhemib have long since had a habit of breaking their fast together, borne of many years of being each other’s only full siblings. Sekhemib is tearing his bread into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually dropping them into his dipping oil where crumbs float. His eyes gaze at something distant, like they are outside staring up at expansive canopy. This is also nothing new. Sehener’s brother has always been more interested in philosophy and theology than the present moment.
“Father is dying,” Sekhemib says without preamble.
“The pharaoh?” Sehener whispers.
“Yes, we only have one father, after all.”
Now it’s Sehener’s turn to retreat into herself. She stays in that quiet space until she can think of something to say.
“How did you know?”
Sehener regrets the question as soon as it’s asked, but Sekhemib doesn’t chide her for it.
“My spies told me.”
Her twin has never excelled at the military arts the way their elder half-brother Khasekhemwy does. It’s always been a dangerous world for those lacking in physical prowess. She and Sekhemib have endeavored to buy the loyalties of most of the palace’s servants and slaves. Nothing happens here without either her or Sekhemib knowing about it.
Still, the death of a pharaoh- the death of an avatar of the gods- surely warrants a moment to stop and reflect. Sehener tries to decide if she’s grieving. Sekhemib watches her closely now, and it’s the exact opposite of his glazed-over mien from before.
“What?” she asks.
“Ah, it’s nothing,” Sekhemib says, strangely mournful.
Everything will be unspeakably different, very soon. That much is certain. No longer hungry, Sehener takes her leave of her twin and wanders in the direction of her father’s chambers. In one corner, a hand reaches out from the shadows and grabs on her wrist. Sehener would know Khasekhemwy’s punishing grip anywhere.
“Release me now,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady and commanding. Her mother’s voice.
“You know the pharaoh is dying, right?”
In any other moment, Sehener would pity Khasekhemwy’s clear fear. The death of a pharaoh always upends lives like someone knocking pieces off a senet board. This is especially true for a monarch’s children.
Right now, though, she can feel her skin bruising and her compassion retreating. “Let me go!”
“Listen, we have to wed. As soon as possible. I need a wife with the pharaoh’s blood to legitimize my rule. You know this. Then you’ll be safe, too.”
Sehener, panicking now, increases her resistance. She manages to yank her hand free, but she ends up slamming her head into the wall.
Everything goes dark...
… Then a holy radiance shatters the unending gloom.
“Ma’at.” This is more of an exhalation than a name. Sehener doesn’t know whether she is naming a fact or naming a goddess. Ma’at’s presence is all around her, though. That much is certain. And Sehener is too full of divinity to rue her own death.
All is in order. Sehener is being welcomed home. She barely notices when Anubis hands her over for the goddess’s judgement.
The weight of her heart doesn’t matter. Her heart may be heavier than limestone. Her heart may be lighter than a wisp of cloud.
These things are inconsequential when facing the inscrutability of Ma’at.
“We have to act quickly.”
Sehener says this in a rush, giddy with the absolute truth of her convictions. Their father has many children, and their mother is not the Great Royal Wife. At best they can hope for a life of stifling obscurity after his passing. At worst, Sehener faces a forced marriage to the victor. At worst Sekhemib faces death.
Sehener is surprised when her twin sighs in relief. Then he actually smiles, albeit with little mirth.
“I was hoping you would say that. I was waiting for a sign that we are in accordance with Ma’at.”
“From Ma’at?” Sehener echoes.
He reaches for her hand. It’s said throughout the palace they held hands just like this when they learned to walk. “We must become pharaoh.”
Already he is slipping in the royal plural. Has he been practicing in his head? Somehow that seems unlike Sekhemib. “I will support you,” she says, because it’s true.
“No,” he shakes his head. “I meant we. Us. We must both become pharaoh of two united kingdoms.”
This should be more startling than it is. “Explain your reasoning,” Sehener says.
“Think of all the internal rebellions father has had to put down. Think of all the scheming. Think of the time we were both nearly poisoned.”
“That’s the normal state of affairs in a palace.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Sekhemib reaches for her hand in a placating gesture. “Egypt has neglected Ma’at and allowed Isfet to reign here for far too long.”
“And you think it’s because we have neglected duality.” Sehener to see his line of thinking.
“Yes. Yes! You see? Ma’at has already laid this idea upon your heart. You grasp it because you know it’s meant to be.”
“Two royal twins. Tending two kingdoms as one.” Sehener heart beats fast and she can’t decide whether it’s from terror or excitement. “Let me seek Ma’at’s counsel on this.”
This seems the logical choice. Ma’at was solid and chaotic all at once. What might be Ma’at to one person could be ruin to another. The true Ma’at- the heartbeat of this land- was as submerged as ones veins and bones.
And petitioning her would be likewise difficult. There are no shrines to Ma’at, as it is something that should live inside a person, inside the land. Only her father could petition the goddess.
Sehener thinks of making some sort of sacrifice. Burning some of her jewelry, perhaps. She doesn’t want people asking questions about the scent of burning metal, however.
Stymied by indecision she avoids everyone. She avoids her mother’s wise counsel. She avoids the comfort of visit her lover, the lady Khenmet. Instead, Sehener lies on her bed, trying to calm her breathing. She forces it to go in and out, in and out. Like water lapping at the banks of the Iteru.
And when Ma’at appears to Sehener it appears as natural as inhalation or blinking.
Sehener can’t quite get a grasp on the goddess’s face. Even when she stands and tries to face Ma’at directly, the deity is always just out of sight, just out of reach. Even when Sehener bows low, the goddess’s feet never seem to stay in one location.
“Ma’at,” Sehener whispers, and it’s a sacred word. The only prayer required.
She asks her questions, but receives no reply. Sometimes it seems as though there’s a hand on her head. Sometimes she thinks she feels a comforting touch to her shoulder.
The presence of Ma’at is holy, but it’s also correct. This is something akin to the peace found after drinking far too much beer, but without the rowdiness or sickness that can attend alcohol. Sehener is content to stare at the floor, marveling at the cracks and faultlines along its surface. She’s content to breathe in the presence of Ma’at.
“There’s a world beyond pharaohs and power and fear isn’t there?”
No land is free of power, no. Peace comes from within yourself
Sehener is unsure whether the words are spoken, or if they are her own thoughts.
But the serene presence of Ma’at is still a part of her when she seeks out Sekhemib he next day.
She takes his hands in hers, and she can see he knows. He knows she’s met with the goddess he has revered all his days.
“Sekhemib,” she says, “what if our only choices weren’t between kingship and death? What if there was another way?”
They meet with their brother Khasekhemwy soon after. It’s a highly formal meeting, where all sides are attended by powerful soldiers. The twins make their case to him; they want to become a priest and priestess of Amun and be removed from the royal succession entirely. They will support him and make no claims on the throne for all their days.
And Khasekhemwy is persuaded, despite clear initial skepticism. The twins are both clearly god-touched, a little too distant to be suitable for power. Sehener watches him and sees him weigh out the benefits of having a great royal wife immediately, or having a priestess sing his praises to the people. He ultimately favors the latter option. Even for one with Khasekhemwy’s martial mindset, he can see that it’s Ma’at for all adult royal children to be in accord. Power slips into his hands with ease, with no bloodshed, and the populace loves them all for it.
And so Sehener is able to save her brother. She is able to save her lover Khenmet because adulation puts Khasekhemwy in a giving mood.
And so Sehener spends the rest of her days worshipping Ma’at. After many uneventful decades she slips into the afterlife, and Sehener approaches the scales with no fear for her future.
She just wants one true glimpse of her divine lady’s face.
“Oh lady,” Sehener murmurs against the floor. “Divine lady, please save us. Please grant us the power to do this.”
This is a child’s plea. A plea that asks for protection from terror. A plea that asks for a surcease of nightmares. It’s the wrong prayer to place at Ma’at’s feet. Ma’at is balance, Ma’at is everything, even the horrifying aspects of life. No one has the power to tame life itself.
Sehener feels the goddess slip from her then. Slow but certain. Like breaths steadfastly quickening in fear.
“Lady, please, please please,” she whispers.
The room is empty.
She finds Sekhemib the next day.
“Ma’at has abandoned me,” she confesses, her eyes stinging with tears. “Your plan is tainted now.” She’s doomed her brother, her mother, and Khenmet as well.
Her twin shakes his head. There’s infinite sorrow in his own eyes, and he doesn’t ask her for details about her private grief. “No. Remember, duality is sacred. We wouldn’t know what is Ma’at without her absence.”
Well then. Sehener would have to embrace her incarnation as the absence of Ma’at.
It begins with her poisoning Khasekhemwy in the chaotic hours after the pharaoh’s death. This is a time when he should be more careful about who hands him beer, but he is not.
The palace is weary but willing to accept the ascension of Sekhemib. They are just as weary when he announces Sehener as co-pharaoh. By the time Sekhemib proclaims they will rule over two united kingdoms- both using the name Sekhemib-Perenmaat- the palace is clearly inured to strangeness.
Sehener rules fair and well, or so she likes to think. For her brother, their regnal name is a proclamation. For her it is an apology.
When her death comes, she trembles as Anubis leads her to meet Ma’at. Her heart may yet prove to be lighter than a feather, but it weighs heavy in her chest.
As a daughter of the pharaoh, Sehener has been given the privilege of her own private room in a relatively quiet wing of the palace. Still, she spends a great deal of time socializing in the women’s quarters. After all, her mother lived here.
And so did her lover, the lady Khenmet.
If anyone found their camaraderie strange, they kept their thoughts hidden. None of Sehener’s spies had unearthed any gossip to that effect.
Today, Khenmet’s face is serene as ever. When they are alone, though, her kiss is perfunctory. Soon enough she starts pacing the room.
“What are you thinking about?” Sehener asks.
“The Pharaoh,” Khenmet says before pausing. She does not elaborate.
“Have you been … summoned?”
It’s ever a delicate subject between the two of them. Officially, Khenmet belongs to the pharaoh. Her family is nobility from the further outreaches of Upper Egypt, a hairsbreadth from Nubia. After the pharaoh had had to put down a rebellion in that region, Khenmet had offered her to the Pharaoh as a concubine. By willingly sending a hostage- for that was what Khenmet truly is- they proved their loyalty. The pharaoh has never sent for her, but they day may come.
“No. It’s not that.” Khenmet brushes her hand against Sehener’s shoulder. “He is dying. You didn’t know?”
Sehener shook her head. She can count one her hands the number of conversations she has had with her father. If she mourns, she mourns what never was.
“I’m glad I heard it from you,” she says at last.
Khenmet gives a tight little nod. Then she pulls Sehener close. As always, they must be quiet. Sometimes Sehener has to bite her own hand. Sometimes Khenmet - sensing danger - will muffle all sounds with kisses. When they’re done, they lie together for a long, long time. They have never been able to spend the night together. It’s still luxurious to steal an hour, pressed together in fitful sleep.
The pharaoh dies the next day.
Her eldest half-brother Khasekhemwy acts quickly. In the night, all the male claimants vanish, seemingly without a trace. This includes Sehener’s twin brother, Sekhemib. Carefully curated rumors abound. The most successful states that they feared Khasekhemwy’s might and attempted to flee to foreign kingdoms to seek aid. There, the god Set sent a sand storm to swallow them as sure as Ammit swallows prey.
When Khasekhemwy claims Sehener for marriage, she’s thinking of Set. She’s entertaining blasphemous thoughts of sealing Khasekhemwy in a tomb and shoving him into the Iteru.
And when Khasekhemwy decides to exile everyone in court with the blood of foreigners in their veins - When Khasekhemwy exiles Khenmet - Sehener reflects on Set some more. She pictures taking an ax to each of his limbs.
What should I do? shes asks Set again and again.
The half-heard voice comes on the edge of sleep on a gray, gray morning. Whatever you do, do it in the open.
And so Sehener sends her spies out into the world, in search of poison. And so she slips some of that poison into her brother-husband’s beer.
She watches him convulse and die on the fine palace floors. These are Sehener’s last actions as a free princess, rather than a convicted murderer of a god-king. These are Sehener’s last actions before her brother’s retainers slay her in turn.
These thoughts are worth it. Sehener is sure Set would agree.
Sehener has good reason to fear for her own situation, of course. Pharaoh has only a few daughters who are old enough to bear children. Marriage to her could solidify the next pharaoh’s reign as much as any cartouche will seal his Horus name.
It’s not a life she would choose for herself, but she can map out its currents as surely as experienced fishermen know the path of the Iteru.
After the death of the pharaoh, Khenmet’s life will be in turmoil. Her lack of children- her lack of rival claimants- might be a point in her favor. However, she still has Nubian blood. She is still viewed with suspicion by Sehenr martial elder brother, Khasekhemwy.
“What does this mean for you?” Sehener asks, even though there’s no way for either of them to be sure.
“I don’t know.” Khenmet is wearing that bland smile she often makes during court functions. However she’s trembling. Her electrum-lined bracelets cast reflections of shattered light along the walls.
Sehener holds Khenmet for a long, long time until they both fall into a fitful sleep.
Later, Sehener won’t be sure if she’s awake or dreaming when she reaches out to the Gods.
It has to be Set, in the end. He’s the only god capable of a kind of mercy for her predicament.
Is it a blasphemy to ask for his aid? There are many who probably think so.
Over the years, though, Sehener has comforted herself with stories of Set’s betrayal, Isis’s journeys, Horus’s conception and travails. As a child it had been easy to identify with youthful falcon-headed god. Years of repetition and musing had worn familiar grooves into the rhythms of this story. If Set had not had the forethought to act, Osiris would not be sovereign over the dead. Horus would not have existed, and reigned. The dynasty that begot her would have been shaped in a very different image. Perhaps Osiris would rule still and she would not exist.
Set arrives to her when the dawn light is as pale as bird’s wing. Sehener cannot identify what manner of beast he is. He is all animals. He is no animal that has ever walked on the surface of the earth.
“Should I bow?” she whispers, her lips barely moving. Khenmet doesn’t stir.
“Do you want to bow? I’m no king of yours.” He doesn’t sound bitter though. Curious, only.
“Can I ask you for aid?”
“You can ask anything,” Set says, his tone promising nothing.
“I need cunning,” she says after thinking about it for several moments.
“And you think I can provide that to you.”
“If she and I are meant to escape. She is under your domain, you know.”
Set observes Khenmet. It seems like it takes a long time, here, in this space beyond anything. “She was born in the Upper Kingdom. So were her grandparents and her many of her grandparents’ grandparents. Yet you claim she is a foreigner.”
“It doesn’t matter to me whether she is or not.” Sehener thinks of the kisses they shared. The laughter, the debates, the stolen hours together. She hopes her words are infused with these memories. “There are many who do see her as foreign, though, and sometimes perception holds all the power.”
“There is no need for a child such as you to school me on the nature of perceptions,” Set says, not without a touch of humor. “You are not wrong. It will be difficult indeed for a pharaoh’s daughter and a pharaoh’s concubine to escape the palace together. It will require cunning indeed.”
Sehener wonders if he has stopped the flow of time itself. Her heart should be pounding now, but it is not. “Then you will provide me with cunning and we can know how to escape.”
“Prove your cunning and I will aid you.”
Sehener doesn’t feel capable of this at all. “Really?” She asks, her heart breaking.
“Does your father help everyone who asks for his aid? No? Then why should assist someone who has not proven herself my acolyte yet?”
Set is starting to fade. like the first drops of late summer run against sun-heated stone.
“Wait!” Sehener cries so loud she worries about waking Khenmet. Her concerns don’t matter. Khenmet remains asleep and Set continues to slip from her.
“So demanding. You really are a pharaoh’s daughter.” Set places his hand on her forehead like a parent checking on a feverish child. And so Sehener shivers like a sick person. She almost asks him to take her and Khenmet with him.
“At least give me some sort of token to prove this really happened.”
“And what,” Set says slowly, “kind of token do you want?”
“I think I need a knife.”
That hadn’t been the answer Set had been expecting. He throws back his head, his laughter more of a bark than anything else.
“You think or you know? Be very specific with us gods. We are terribly old and the fragility of humans confuses us.”
“I know,” she says, “that I need a knife.” Sehener has knives aplenty, but they are frail things meant for food. “One that I can conceal, and one will strike true.”
“Technically that is three requests, but I will allow for it.” Set places a dagger in her hand, and it’s so cold she expects her flesh to freeze. There’s nothing fanciful about this blade. Nothing artistic about its hilt. No one would think it god-touched. They might revise their opinion, though, if they were to see the way it could transform into the bracelet she slips over her wrist.
“A word of advice,” Set says. “Destruction is easy enough. You must have a plan for what comes after.”
“Oh, I do,” Sehener says to the empty air.
This wakes Khenmet. She raises an eyebrow when she notices the the expression Sehener’s face.
Sehener leans over and kisses Khenmet on the forehead. “Stay here until I come for you.”
“And if you don’t come for me?” Khenmet’s voice cracks a bit halfway through her question. She doesn’t look away. “You know I will mourn you.”
Then don’t search for me everywhere. Don’t be like Isis. Find love and freedom elsewhere.
Things pass in a blur when she leaves Khenmet’s room. First she has a conversation with her twin Sekhemib. Then she pays a visit to her elder half-brother Khasekhemwy. As expected, they check her for weapons. As hoped they pay no attention to the bangle that does not match the others on her wrists.
The two of them have a cordial conversation, although Sehener will not be able to describe the details later.
She’ll vividly remember pulling off her bracelet, though. She’ll remember the way it transformed into a dagger. Of a surety she will remember Khasekhemwy looking with bewilderment at the hilt protruding from his chest.
Set comes to her mere moments after Khasekhemwy’s heart stops beating.
And so Sehener and Set sit across from each other, idly playing senet. There are small fingerprints of blood on the pieces that Sehener touches.
“I thought you would plan for several weeks at least. Waiting for the right moment.” If Set bore a human’s head he might be smiling right now.
“It had to be today. Before he’s enshrined as a pharaoh. This isn’t a blasphemy. He’s just a prince and his death is the result of the pharaoh’s children jockeying for power.”
“Well done,” Set says, putting the winning piece in to place. “Well done.” Then he disappears, even though Sehener would seek his counsel.
Khenmet eyes go wide, later, when she sees Sehener. Even when she explains that the blood is not her own.
Sehener’s twin- Sekhemib- doesn’t approve of her actions, even though he is probably happy enough to be enshrined on the throne. She accepts his plan to rule the kingdom together, but she rejects his plan to rule for Ma’at.
She takes on the regnal name Seth-Peribsen, even though the god never shows his face to her again. It doesn’t matter, though. He’s there when she puts down a rebellion or discovers a conspiracy. Some say Set plagues her reign, but she is certain Set is helping her grasp onto it as long as possible.
When she dies, she is defiant and resolute as Anubis leads her to Ma’at’s judgement.
“Gold,” Sehener says after giving the question some thought.
Soon enough the palace will be inhospitable towards her and (more importantly) to Khenmet. She has no choice, then. They must flee to the furthest regions of the kingdom. Perhaps they need to go even further than that.
And to survive they will need to be able to barter. Better to slip away with gold no one knows exists. They will be less likely to track her down for being a thief.
“Gold,” Set echoes. Sehener can barely see him, and she wonders if she is imagining the faint disappointment in his voice. “If you wish to wander in exile you should have asked my sister Isis for succor.”
Still he places a few slender bars of gold in her hand. At first they nearly burn her skin and she almost drops them.
When she looks up, he’s gone.
But is that his voice ringing in her head? If you wanted to hide you shouldn’t have asked aid from a god who searched the ends of the earth for Osiris?
Is it a joke? A warning? Sehener shoves that question away, and opts to wake Khenmet up.
Her lover’s eyes widen at the sight of gold and all that it implies. She sits up, her shoulders settling into a stubborn posture. “We should go now then,” she says.
The two of them leave the royal compound with a surprising amount of ease. No one thinks to stop two wealthy ladies who walk as though they have somewhere important to be.
After all, that’s only the truth.
Some of the gold purchases them a trip on the Iteru. The two of them stand on the deck and watch the palace recede into the distance until it vanishes completely. The only home she’s ever known - her mother, her twin brother - recedes into the golden light. Khenmet reaches for Sehener’s hand and she’s glad to have something tethering her to reality. They stay there for many hours, watching the landscape change.
After three days of sailing, Sehener wakes to shouting. The boat is rocking dangerously.
“Hippopotami!” One of the sailors shouts when she appears above deck, “go back below!”
Ah, yes, they’re sacred to Set aren’t they? Perhaps this is what his warning had betokened. Perhaps this was a trick of fate. Maybe that’s why Sehener is calm in spite of everything.
Either way, she’s still in a reverie when one of them rams into the ship and she topples into the water. The sting of water against her skin isn’t enough to wake her up.
Sehener isn’t wearing any of her jewelry but she has never been taught to swim. She slips down into the Iteru, down into Set’s depths.
It will take a long time for Anubis to find her here.
On the precipice of so much change, Sehener’s life has been reduced to a puzzle. In order to solve it she must petition the god of wisdom.
When the morning comes, Sehener leaves before Khenmet wakes. She makes her way to Thoth’s temple. The entire city is quiet, as thought everyone is holding their breath without knowing why. Though the priests must recognize her, they leave Sehener to her own devices. Her prayer is more a litany of grievances. Soon enough, she’s offering up fear as pure as any flame.
A man walks beside her as she returns to the palace. Normally, this would raise worries over assassins or abductors. Something keeps her from crying out or even turn her head to look.
“My lord Thoth,” she finally says.
“If that’s what you wish to call me.”
“Do you have a solution for me?”
He remains silent for a long time. His footfall makes no sound, but his shadow looks like an ibis where it intersects with Sehener’s.
“There are always multiple actions one can take in any situation. You can attack, you can retreat, you can stand still.”
“I’ve stood still for a while now.” Her whole life, perhaps.
“Oh?” Thoth sounds like he’s tilting his head, bird-like. “I don’t think so. Asking the gods for assistance is rather assertive in my estimation.”
He is the god of all knowledge. His estimation counts for a great deal.
“I dislike interfering with humans,” he continues, “even when those humans are our avatars on earth.”
“My father is,” Sehener says. “I’ve never felt divine, myself. Is that blasphemous?”
“Let’s say some magician or priest was able to divine the proportion of your blood that contains divinity. Would you deny it then?”
Sehener considers this. “No, I don’t think so,” she says, distantly aware that some kind dream-logic is allowing her to entertain this question rather than beg for assistance.
“When Osiris was murdered, I did not mourn. Do they teach you that?”
“Do they tell you why?”
“It’s a mystery. We are not permitted to know.”
Thoth laughs at this, although Sehener cannot figure out why. “They don’t know either. Ah well daughter of kings. I don’t consider it any great mystery. The world of humans continues in a great circle, even for the pharaoh’s family. Birth, youth, aging, death. So it goes for all the living beings that share your realm. My kind continues into infinity.”
“You knew he would be back.” Sehener wonders if another god would strike her down for interrupting. “You had faith in him. So there was no need to mourn!”
“No, I would have had cause to mourn if I allowed it. When Osiris was revived he was not exactly the same, was he?”
“No, my lord.”
“Osiris was a great king. However, gods are not cyclical. We continue forever in some fashion. He could have remained king for all of our days. He could have ruled for so long that the waters of Nun would have grown stagnant. All of existence would have stood still.”
This is god-logic. Every time Sehener tries to grab onto it with her hands, it vanishes like smoke.
“I don’t understand,” she whispers, wanting nothing more than to look on Thoth’s faith. Perhaps she can absorb his brilliance the way one absorbed brilliance from the sun.
“Nor did I expect you to do so. Not right away. Think on these mysteries, though. Think about how sometimes everything must begin again.”
Sehener does turn to look, then. The god- if he was ever there- is gone.
She decides to seek out her mother. They retreat into her mother’s quarters, drinking honeyed beet up on the roof they can both see far into the distance.
“The Pharaoh is dying,” her mother says when the sky fades to purple and periwinkle hues. “Did you know?”
“I knew,” her voice sounds distant to Sehener’s own ears. As distant as a god’s voice.
Her mother smiles without mirth. “You sound so flippant.”
“Forgive me. I never thought this day would come.”
“Oh? He may be a god, but not one of the great gods.”
Sehener looks around, but there are no servants in sight. “Be careful,” she says, and her eyes sting. “You can’t speak like that.”
“Oh? They can’t do much to me soon enough.”
Her mother has an illness that’s killing her by slow degrees and no one has been able to decipher the cause.
There’s little to say to that, so they sit in silence watching the moon barge across the sky. Far, far away the sun is going through his nightly travails.
“There won’t be anything left for you here, soon,” her mother says after a long time has passed. “Neither for you or the lady Khenmet.”
There’s no point asking how her mother knows that Khenmet is Sehener’s lover. Her mother simply knows things that others do not. Nor does she need her mother to spell out her bleak existence if she stays here. Marriage to the new Pharaoh is the most likely option.
Her mother swats away a buzzing insect and regards her daughter for a long time. Sehener tries to not squirm or evince any dismay.
“You are a god’s daughter, yes. I don’t know if palace life is for you. The same is true for Khenmet. I don’t think she’s ever liked it here.”
Sehener wants to protest, but nothing rings true. Not protestation of love for royal life. Certainly not protestations that she would be content with marriage to the most likely victors of a power struggle.
“The gods ruled, but the gods also invented and sustained so many things,” Sehener murmurs.
“Exactly. This family is Horus’s domain, but I have wondered for a long time if you might be meant more for Thoth’s arts instead.”
Now that is surprising.
“What brought you to that conclusion?”
“Merit-Ptah,” Nebty-tepites says, naming her tireless physician. “You have heard about how she was instructed in Sais, yes? I have wondered for a long time whether that sort of existence might suit you better than that of Great Royal Wife. It might be interesting if you … if you somehow ended up in Sais to learn the same.”
Sehener can only agree.
She barely has to do anything to make the plan fall into place. Sehener’s mother has planned this for a long time. She has a plan for Sekhemib, too, but she will not tell Sehener. If they are both sent to different locations, the twins have a better chance of fading into obscurity.
And, as a favor to Sehener, her mother also helps Khenmet escape as well.
The journey to Sais is long and arduous and the two women live in fear during the entire trek.
They’re discovered just as they’ve begun to relax and hope. The new pharaoh sends soldiers in to Sais, and they drag Sehener back to the palace. Khenmet they leave behind. Either they do not know or care that she has fled as well.
Sehener rules well enough as Khasekhemwy’s Great Royal Wife. There is no love in their marriage, but Sehener resolves to be like Thoth. She will not mourn anything that has run its course.
This includes her own life when- after many decades pass- it is time for Anubis to lead her to Ma’at.
The plan is appealing, yes. She has always hungered to know how the mechanics of the world around her. This extends to curiosity about the workings of the human body. As a young girl she had to be told again and again that it is not appropriate for a pharaoh’s daughter to become a mummifier or lady physician.
Her life as a princess has run its course. It’s time for a new cycle.
Thoth words are still seeping into her, guiding her.
“I would like that,” she says, finally, “but I would need to make a clean break.”
Her mother goes pale as she explains her idea, but she ultimately accedes to its wisdom.
Merit-Ptah works some kind of medicinal magic that puts the princess in a deep sleep. She ‘dies’ on the same day as her father. The entire kingdom is more preoccupied with the rituals of his burial than that of his daughter. They care even less when his concubine Khenmet also appears to die.
Later, her mother will claim she quietly ordered for the two women to be mummified and buried.
Sehener and Khenmet begin anew in Sais. She knows her twin brother is in hiding somewhere else, likely far away. She thinks of him every day, but soon her thoughts are filled to the brim with lessons on anatomy. She learns the placement of the stars and all the ways the gods move through everything.
When Sehener dies it feels like an extension of all her days that came before.