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SCARABA NOVEL OF ETERNAL LOVE
By ARRETA E. KEEFER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Arretta E. Keefer
All right reserved.
The sun, like an enormous golden ball, suspended in a cloudless azure sky, was slowly sinking into the great Egyptian Nile, as the slender young woman stood alone on the open terrace of the magnificent newly completed temple that seemed to grow out of the very rock cliffs at Deir el-Bahri. She wore only the thin Egyptian gown of sheerest white linen. Her long, lustrous black hair hung loosely around her bare shoulders like the wings of a raven. Hatshepsut wore no crown, denoting her title, only the thin circlet of gold with its cobra head poised as if to strike dead any who would dare to defile her royal beauty.
Upon her slender feet, she wore delicate leather sandals, her toenails and fingernails were tinted with henna. Her large dark eyes, fringed by thick black lashes, were outlined with kohl, as was the custom. She was petite in stature and form, but every inch a woman whose beauty had been celebrated in legend and in stone throughout Egypt.
Hatshepsut, Living Forever, Queen and Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt sighed, resting her delicate elbows upon the top of the waist-high wall that encircled the terrace, as she awaited the man whom she had summoned. She leaned out over the wall, scanning the garden below and watched all those who passed beneath her. She had eyes and interest for only one, Lord Senmut, artist, architect to the Royal House of Tuthmose I, her father, and now to Hatshepsut, as her father's heir. Hatshepsut closed her eyes and remembered the first moment she had met him.
It was at one of her father's audiences. Hatshepsut had sat beside him, paying attention to every detail and everyone during the ceremony. Someday, she knew, she would rule alone. It was important that she prepared herself for this destiny, learning everything about the affairs of state.
Looking over the small group assembled in the great court that day, waiting to be heard, she remembered Senmut had been there. She had immediately singled him out from the others.
Taller than most of the other Egyptians, his upper torso was well defined, his muscular arms and thighs giving evidence that he was no stranger to hard labor. His dark skin showed that he was accustomed to working long hours in the Egyptian sun, yet his bearing was that of a nobleman rather than a laborer. His eyes, Hatshepsut noticed, with interest, were not almond shaped as were her own. They were outlined with kohl—as was the custom.
She was fascinated by him. Several times, as she sat studying this curious young man, their eyes met and she shyly lowered her lashes and looked away. When she turned again to look at him, she saw that he was smiling at her boldly. Bold indeed, she thought. She liked the sight of him. She waited in anticipation to discover why he stood before Pharaoh.
She discovered that his name was Senmut and that he was an architect of great importance and reputation. She had been delighted when her father, Tuthmose I, had bestowed upon him the title of Royal architect to the House of Tuthmose I, and commissioned him to build his daughter's temple and Pharaoh's final resting place. Hatshepsut leaned to rest her arms on the terrace wall, smiling as she remembered how the thought of spending time in Senmut's company had excited her.
Queen/Pharaoh Hatshepsut, ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt conqueror of nations, leaned out over the edge of the terrace of her temple at Deir-el-Bahri at the edge of the River Nile, and sighed with pleasure of her romantic memories.
Such a magnificent tribute to their love, she thought. A tribute to the Pharaoh, yes, she acknowledged that. But it was also a tribute to the great talent of the artist and architect who had constructed it. Senmut's gift. When the old Pharaoh Tuthmose I, her father died, leaving his beautiful daughter to rule in his place, she had seized the opportunity with the determination and eagerness of youth.
Hatshepsut wore the double crown and its titles. She had co-reigned beside her father before his death and her half-brother and husband before his untimely death.
History would record her 22-year reign as a time of peace and prosperity. It was a time of loneliness, however, for Hatshepsut until the moment when Senmut had entered her life.
The view from the terrace, with its' colonnade of majestic pillars was breathtaking. It was designed to rise up out of the very cliffs in terraces linked by a central ramp, lined with colonnades, decorated bas-reliefs. The temple was dedicated to the supreme god of the kingdom, Amun, but certain parts of it were reserved for Hathor, Anubis and Re'Harakhty. It would also be used for the funerary cults of the queen and her parents, Tuthmose I and Ahmes.
The lower terrace ended in a colonnade with two rows of pillars, interrupted in the middle by the access ramp leading to the upper terrace upon which she stood. The decorations depicted scenes of royal hunting and fishing parties as well as of the ceremony at the setting-up of the queen's two obelisks in the in the temple of Amun at Karnak. The middle terrace had a similar layout: two colonnades on each side of the ramp leading to the upper terrace. Here, the architect Senmut, created reliefs depicting Hatshepsut's divine birth her education, her co-regency with her father, Tuthmose I, and finally, her accession to the throne as sole 'king'.
Further along, there were scenes from the naval expedition she had organized in the land of Punt (south of the Red Sea), bringing back various products unobtainable in Egypt: gold, precious gems, felines, incense, monkeys, giraffes, ebony, ivory, myrrh, skins, aromatic oils, and other objects. At the end of the north colonnade and cut out of the rock, lay the chapel of the mummification god, Anubis, consisting of an antechamber and three adjoining sanctuaries.
Upon the evening breeze, the scent of lotus floated up to where the young queen stood, leaning over the wall, hoping to catch a glimpse of the object of her thoughts. At last, she was rewarded. Semnut approached the entrance to the gardens below. As if sensing her presence, he looked up and was rewarded by the sight of her beautiful smile. He raised the palm of his right hand to his heart in tribute to the queen above.
Senmut hurried up the steps and across the courtyard to the second level where the queen waited impatiently for his arrival. His heart was light with love. Hatshepsut had become the most important being in his life, his very reason for being, so he believed. The realization that this magnificent lady returned his feelings made him feel humble before her and thankful to the all the gods of Egypt for granting him the gift of joy he felt in her presence.
The lady of his desire waited impatiently for him. Looking into the lotus pool at her reflection, Hatshepsut smiled with satisfaction. She was in love and she felt happier than she ever had in her young life. For some time, Senmut had occupied her thoughts both awake and in dreams. She who ruled Upper and Lower Egypt, who had conquered nations, felt powerless before love.
She remembered how she had taken great interest in the architect's work, often spending hours watching his measuring and sketching and frequently barraging him with questions about why he drew this and that. In the beginning, Hatshepsut sensed that Senmut found her presence and her many questions annoying, wishing that she might find another source of interest to occupy her royal time.
When he had realized that she was truly interested in the structure with which he had been entrusted and that the questions she asked were borne out of a serious interest of someone who cared very much, he was generous with his time and she had taken great delight in their time together. She was in awe of his great talent and never tired of his lessons.
Hatshepsut began interjecting her own ideas about design whenever Senmut would allow her. She recognized that this young man with the beautiful eyes was a great artist. She would sometimes ask him to draw pictures of exotic birds and animals from other places. Hatshepsut had a thirst for knowledge and a deep appreciation of nature and beauty.
She was, without intention, falling in love with this aloof young man who filled her with more questions than answers. The more time she spent in his company, the more she desired to see his face, watch his slender fingers move across the blank papyrus, filling it with life in the form of a building or a tree or whatever he chose to draw. She sometimes shyly wondered what it would feel like to have those artist's hands touch her body. It was at these times that Hatshepsut had her handmaidens bring her a cooling draught and prepare her for a cooling bath in the lotus pool before she retired.
Hatshepsut had blossomed in beauty and poise during their relationship. She had also become aware of a growing hunger to become part of Senmut's mind, longed to share his body as well as his thoughts. She found that she became jealous of any maiden he chanced to smile at. Senmut was driving the young queen to distraction and he didn't seem to notice. But Senmut noticed.
For the past four months, it had become increasingly difficult to concentrate upon his work whenever Hatshepsut entered the rooms he had been given in the palace as his working place. His kilt had great difficulty staying where it was supposed to whenever the young queen accidentally touched his shoulder with hers as they sat side by side at his drawing table.
In his sleeping quarters, Senmut found himself dreaming about the beautiful queen and awoke with a hardness that had disturbed him. From the first moment he looked upon Hatshepsut, he could think of on other woman. He wanted her. He desired her. Hatshepsut however was out of his reach. She was CO-Regent. He was a parvenu, not of royal birth. According to Egyptian law, they could never be together. Hatshepsut however did not view the situation in the same way.
During the following weeks, the young architect had busied himself with the task of designing the temple and then putting those plans into stone. Hatshepsut had ideas of her own that she wished to incorporate into the designs and made a point of interjecting those ideas whenever possible.
In the beginning, Senmut found her presence conflicting. On the one hand, he was pleased by the young Queen's interest in his work. On the other, he found her frequent suggestions distracting and annoying, although, to be honest, the lady knew what she wanted and possessed a keen artistic sense. Then too, there was the fact that he found himself immensely looking forward to her visits. He discovered that he liked being in her presence. She was beautiful in ways beyond the physical. Her laughter and great imagination charmed him.
She could be demure one moment and bold the next. He never knew what she was going to do next. Often, Hatshepsut came bearing lunch of fruit and morsels of cooked fish and meat with freshly baked bread and a honeyed wine. He was powerless to resist her. Two years later, he was still powerless to resist his love for Hatshepsut.
It had happened quite suddenly. Thutmose II, her stepbrother/ husband had died in his sleep. Hatshepsut was not with him when it happened. They had dined together earlier and he had displayed no signs of illness when they went to their separate apartments. Hatshepsut allowed herself to weep for the man, her stepbrother and husband, and Pharaoh, but she also recognized the tears of sadness were mixed with tears of joy at being free at last to acknowledge her feelings for Senmut. But both she and Senmut knew in their hearts that she could never take him as her consort. Not according to Egyptian law.
She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the only man she had or would ever love. And so, after a brief period of mourning, Hatshepsut took up the double crown and scepter of Upper and Lower Egypt and made herself Queen/Pharaoh Hatshepsut Living Forever. If her nephew, Tuthmose III disagreed, he was too young to do much of anything to prevent it.
And so, Hatshepsut became Pharaoh and she and Senmut had become lovers. Senmut became her constant companion and confidant. She cherished their relationship beyond that of the joy of sex she had discovered in his arms and loins. She loved his mind and worshipped his talent as an artist and architect. She wished to show him how much she loved and admired him.
Tonight, she had summoned him to her chambers, dismissing her attending handmaidens on the pretext that she was experiencing the vapors and wished to be left alone for the remainder of the evening. For weeks, she had been awaiting the 'gift' she had commissioned as a token of her love for Senmut. It had arrived earlier that afternoon, surrounded by mystery. The messenger had been announced and had been taken to Hatshepsut's solarium and the guards were dismissed, leaving the messenger alone with Hatshepsut. She excitedly untied the wrapping and allowed the object she had commissioned to drop into her other hand.
A shaft of sunlight touched upon the golden cartouche, hanging from a magnificently woven gold chain. It was perfect. Hatshepsut praised the artist for his work and rewarded the delighted man with one of her own cuffs of gold and a linen pouch containing an extremely generous amount. The artist bowed and thanked the Pharaoh for her generosity, bowing over and over, as he backed to the great doors from which he had entered.
Hatshepsut clapped her hands and immediately the great doors were opened and the artist was escorted out of the palace. She was alone, having dismissed her servants earlier.
She turned the beautiful cartouche over and ran her fingers across the hieroglyphs. 'Forever' Hatshepsut dropped the chain and cartouche into its' linen pouch and put it into the belt of her gown. She had then summoned Senmut on the pretext of wishing advice on a new wing of the temple.
He came swiftly to her for he, too, had a surprise. Hatshepsut had filled his thoughts always. He had decided to create a gift befitting of the love he felt for her. It was a golden brooch in the shape of a winged scarab, the symbol of immortality. Suspended between the raised wings, was a large, pink orange sun fashioned of a large, bezel-set, translucent cabochon carnelian. The raised wings were delicately inlaid with lapis, onyx and carnelian.
The scarab itself was carved out of a single large piece of solid lapis lazuli. On its belly, Senmut had carved his name in hieroglyphs and the word 'forever'. Senmut encased the precious scarab in a box of onyx, lined with purple velvet. The box was carved on all four sides with hieroglyphs representing the four seasons of life. The delicately hinged lid had been carved with a prayer for the wearer's immortality.
The moment for which both lovers had been awaiting was at hand. The clash of the royal gong announced Senmut's arrival. He was ushered into the Pharaoh's chambers by two Nubian guards who were immediately dismissed. When the great doors were shut behind him, Senmut went to Hatshepsut, enfolding her in his strong arms. Hatshepsut marveled at how well they fit together. It was as if they were always meant to be together like two halves of a divine puzzle.
Hatshepsut knew that she could never acknowledge her love for Senmut to the world, but they both knew in their hearts that their love was meant to be and that was enough.
"Beloved, Hatshepsut began, looking up into that dear face; I summoned you for a personal reason." He smiled, raising an eyebrow in question. Without further explanation, Hatshepsut reached down to the sash of her gown and untied the linen pouch. She took his right hand and dropped her present into the upturned palm. "Open it." she said, her voice was filled with eager anticipation of his appreciation of her gift. "As my Pharaoh commands", he said with a ceremonious bow, clutching the pouch to his heart with a mischievous smile.
"Hatshepsut!" he said, his voice almost a whisper, filled with emotion, having taken the cartouche and golden chain from the linen pouch. The look of surprise and delight he gave her was all the reward she sought. "I shall wear this always," he said, hugging her closer to him.
He leaned down and captured her lips with a swiftness she had not expected. Locked in this gentle embrace, Senmut suddenly drew away from her. "What is wrong?" Hatshepsut asked. She was not ready to give up her position within his arms so quickly and wished to know the reason for his actions. He laughed then, a rich melodious laugh, not at her expense, she realized, but because he had something else to do at the moment. Although, try as she might, Hatshepsut couldn't think of a single thing more important than being in his arms.
Excerpted from SCARAB by ARRETA E. KEEFER Copyright © 2012 by Arretta E. Keefer. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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