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The Name of the King

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Hatshepsut glided quickly and quietly through the glittering halls of the palace. It was a warm night, and the shining stars illuminated the Nile that was not too far off. Karnack was resting. It was late, and few people were still in the palace, except for the guards on duty. As she made her way to her chambers, Hatshepsut gazed between the pillars of the palace onto the city.
Palm fronds blew in the wind and birds cooed to each other from their perch’s atop the thatched rooves of her subject’s homes. A black cat scampered between the pillars and inspected the palace walls as if it was at home. No one dared to shoo it away. It was a peaceful night for her people. For Hatshepsut it was rife with turmoil.
Some mere days since her brother-husband’s death, Thutmose II, and already the pharaoh’s council had been pushing for her stepson, Thutmose III, to assume the throne at the age of two years. It would appear the old fools would not stand the site of her on her husband’s throne. Her throne now, if she could play the game. Her bare feet slid silently over the polished stone floors as she finally made it to her chambers. Two young guards saluted her before drawing back the great gold inlaid doors, welcoming her to her refuge.
Her room was all the extravagance expected of a pharaoh’s wife. A large four post bed covered in white linens supported by golden legs centered the room. Her husband rarely visited her chambers here, so the room was only filled with joyful thoughts. Thoughts of rest, relaxation, and most importantly her lover, Senemut.
Various vanity dressers and chests covered the room full of her royal garbs and makeup, which entertained her as a young girl, but held little interest for her now. The time when her beauty was her main enjoyment was over. Now it was time to be a queen. She crossed the room and pushed back the heavy curtains to allow the moon to shine in. From the view of the balcony the Nile flowed proud and strong bringing life to Egypt. That was how she needed to become.
Exhausted from her day of arguments and mourning for her husband, Hatshepsut collapsed in the nearest chair and allowed her weariness to subside. After a moment of rest, a slight tinkering noise alerted her that she was not alone. Raising her gaze, Hatshepsut realized the black cat had followed her into the room.
A golden ankh chain hung around the creature’s neck and its eyes reflected like fire. Intrigued, Hatshepsut watched the cat’s movements. The cat strutted about her room sniffing and pawing at her clothes and trinkets before hopping on top of a couch and stretching out, completely at ease.
Hatshepsut laughed at the cat’s impertinence. “What a burden to be a cat,” she spoke aloud. The cat tilted its head at her voice and purred softly. “Doomed to a life of pampering and worship, only to die in honor and praise.” She laughed again at her situation. If she did nothing and allowed the advisors to bully her as they wished this cat would be better remembered in history than she would.
The cat lifted its head from grooming itself and properly scrutinized Hatshepsut, as if judging her. “Is that all you think of me, my Queen?” the cat asked her. Hatshepsut shot up straight in her chair and fixed her eyes on the cat. Perhaps her day had been more strenuous than she thought. Before she could call out for a magician, the cat shifted its form.
Where the black cat had been stretching languidly on her couch now lay a dark skinned woman in battle armor, reclining as if they were engaged in friendly conversation. Her black curly hair was held back by a bejeweled head piece, and the golden ankh which had adorned the cat’s neck was now wrapped around the woman’s throat. Her dark gold and brown battle armor was intricately detailed with battle scenes, and various knives and weapons hung from her waist and legs. But it was her face that was most striking. The fire behind her eyes glowed stronger now and her face and mouth were not of a woman’s but the snout of a cat!
The hysteria Hatshepsut had felt before quickly left her replaced by a calm. “Bastet,” she greeted the war goddess with an incline of her head, “Must you be so theatrical?” Bastet returned the nod and resumed her relaxed pose on the couch.
“I get so little entertainment in times of peace, Sister dear. I must seek thrills by other methods.” Bastet’s voice seemed to purr but carry a hint of malice. Like a cat she could be docile and at ease, but at moment’s notice pounce into feral rage.
As queen, Hatshepsut was the embodiment of the goddess Isis, Queen of the gods and sister to Bastet. They sat together in companionable silence, and Hatshepsut dreaded the second they would break and return to business. Bastet was not the sort of relative to drop in unannounced for a hello. As the war goddess, she brought warning and prophecy.
With a sigh, Hatshepsut straightened her spine and assumed her façade that a queen must carry. “Then tell me, Sister dear,” she began trying to mimic Bastet’s commanding presence, “what brings you to my quarters? Warning of war or of forbearance?”
Bastet smiled, but remained languid on the couch and didn’t answer right away. Whatever news she brought must not be very pressing. “Think not of the present for now, Hatshepsut. Rather think to the future. One year, ten years, a century down the line. What do you see?” Bastet was toying with her like a cat with a bird, and Hatshepsut had no choice but to play along if she wanted an answer.
Hatshepsut thought for a moment before answering her sister. “In one year I will be Queen Regent, as I am now. In ten years the same, only with less power as Thutmose will be older. In a century, I will be remembered as wife and mother of pharaohs.” Or I will not be remembered at all, she thought to herself. She dared not reveal such a thought to her sister, especially a goddess such as Bastet. Bastet had the power to ensure that she would be forgotten for all of history.
“And that is what you want?” Bastet asked. Hatshepsut looked at her sister trying to gauge the reason for these questions. Bastet seemed to already be losing interesting in the conversation though, twirling knives between her fingers and gazing up at the ceiling.
Hatshepsut rose from her seat and paced her room. She made her way to the window and gazed at Egypt. Her Egypt. In the distance she could see the pyramids of her forefathers pointing proudly to the gods. The Nile flowed strong and powerful through the land bringing life and nourishment. She thought again to what Bastet had asked her. What did she want?
“I want to be Egypt.” Hatshepsut swallowed and closed her eyes, willing her dream to be a reality. “I want to be the ruler of the most powerful land in the world. I want to bring knowledge and culture to everyone in the land, establish trade with the foreigners, and create an empire that will withstand time. In centuries to come I want the name Hatshepsut to be synonymous with Egypt and the Nile. I want to bring life and beauty to my people.” She finished and let out a breath before she faced Bastet, waiting for her criticism. Hatshepsut’s worried brow was met with Bastet’s fiery eyes and wicked grin.
“You want to be Pharaoh.” Bastet purred in delight.
Hatshepsut gasped in surprise but thought of everything she just said. She wanted to be remembered as a ruler, not just a queen. She wanted power to change the empire, not advise her stepson on plans he will ignore anyway. Hatshepsut wanted to rule in her own right, not as wife or mother to a pharaoh. She wanted to be king.
A rush of excitement and ecstasy blew through Hatshepsut and a girlish squeal she would not dare make before anyone but her sister escaped her throat. Bastet laughed an equally squeaky giggle at her sister’s revelation. “Will you help me, Bastet? Will you show me the way?” Hatshepsut wrung her hands and took a step towards Bastet.
Bastet grinned and straightened up on the couch. “Why do you think I’m here, Sister mine?” Bastet flashed a big smile of pointed sharp teeth and continued. “Since you assumed the throne with your brother-husband I have watched you. You have the potential to be more than any queen before you, Hatshepsut. The choices you make in the upcoming days will not only decide your fate, but the next twenty-two years for Egypt.”
Hatshepsut listened eagerly and glided closer to the couch to listen more attentively to the great cat. “Be strong Hatshepsut. Stand fast in the face of your adversaries. Many men will stand before you to dispute your claim. You must strike them down. Assert your right as ruler, not as queen, and embody Isis who they cannot disobey. Be brave, my Sister, and you will be remembered as one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs of all time!”
Hatshepsut bowed her head and kissed her sister’s hand in thanks. She allowed one tear to escape while her face was down and readied herself for the oncoming battle she must face. “As you have said, so I shall do Bastet,” she whispered not trusting her voice not to shake.
“Very good, little sister.” Bastet smiled sweetly and placed a kiss on Hatshepsut’s forehead. “The road ahead is perilous and rough. Only through perseverance will you survive, and your name live on.” Bastet encouraged her. “What say you, Mother Sky?” Bastet spoke out in a clear voice making Hatshepsut jump and spin around.
Where she had been standing moments before a new figure appeared. Ebony black skin clothed in swirling blue and silver garb made of the heavens itself stood before her as the goddess of the night sky, Nut. Bright white stars shone from her eyes and her black hair flowed around her. She floated towards the sisters and gestured with one hand outstretched as a sign of peace and blessing.
Cursed to be forever separated from her husband Geb, god of the Earth, Nut could not touch the ground for fear of allowing chaos to be unleashed. “Mother Sky,” Hatshepsut greeted Nut and bowed low. Nut smiled and touched Hatshepsut’s face raising her eyes to her. Bastet had risen as well, in respect to Nut. When Nut spoke, it was a soft voice but full of power; one felt protected and safe in her embrace.
“Peace to you both, my Daughters,” Nut greeted them. Bastet returned to her seat on the couch, but Hatshepsut stayed in a position of deference before the great goddess. “Be at ease, Hatshepsut. A ruler of Egypt must always show superior strength.” Hatshepsut smiled at Nut’s words and tried to relax.
“Do you have a prophesy for Hatshepsut as well, Mother?” Bastet asked Nut. Hatshepsut felt fear clench her gut. Bastet brought her a message foretelling her victory and power. The odds of Nut bringing an equally positive message were slim.
Nut floated back slightly so she could look at them both equally. “I come not with prophesy Hatshepsut. I am only presenting you with the choices you will be faced with in the coming days.” Hatshepsut nodded her head, still not confident to speak to Nut.
Nut regarded her with kind eyes and continued. “War with the south is coming. It is inevitable.” Hatshepsut stiffened and whirled to face Bastet, slightly angered that she had not told her that. Nut placed her hand on her cheek bringing her attention back to her words.
“The timing of the war depends on you. Remain as Queen Regent, and you will have power for ten years until your stepson takes the throne. He will be a powerful warrior, eager for battle and swift to judge. He will be victorious but at a great cost to Egypt.” Hatshepsut considered Nut’s warning gravely. Her duty was to the good of Egypt before her own desires.
But Nut was not done yet. “Assume the throne as pharaoh, and you will usher in Egypt’s golden age of architecture and trade for twenty-two years. You will expand Egypt, bring in more fortune than the land has ever known before and be the most powerful ruler in all the land. And when war does come, Thutmose the warrior will fight and be victorious. But your planning and assistance will save Egypt from the heavy burden of war.”
Hatshepsut smiled broadly and tried to contain her glee. The path before her was now clear, with the blessings of two great goddesses. Happiness and joy flowed from her and maintaining her regal pose was almost unbearable. “But it will come at a price.” Nut’s voice turned grave and Hatshepsut felt all of her dreams begin to crumble.
“When your reign is ended and Isis embraces you and welcomes you to the underworld, Thutmose’s heart will harden towards you.” Nut continued and Hatshepsut became fearful. The lasting legacy of Egypt was vital, but her own jealous heart craved the glory of pharaoh.
Nut went on, “He will try to defame you, dishonor your temple, and remove you from history.” Hatshepsut’s voice was trapped in her throat as Nut poured out her greatest fears becoming her future. “But he will not succeed. Egypt will remember you, Hatshepsut.”
Hatshepsut stepped away from the goddesses and finally breathed to steady her nerves. She must think and not be impulsive. Be queen and advise Thutmose, or be pharaoh and lose his trust. Both choices promised glory. Only one ensured eternal remembrance.
In the end though, the best choice would be for the betterment of Egypt and its future. With a deep breath Hatshepsut made her choice. To be forgotten for a little while was a small price to pay in service to her land and the gods.
She turned to face Nut and Bastet and smiled. “What is your decision, my Queen?” Bastet asked her. Her pointed cat ears twitched and her eyes were alight.
“King,” Hatshepsut corrected her sister.
“My apologies,” Bastet smiled, “All hail Her Majesty, King Hatshepsut!”