Mask of Kara


I cried out as I saw what must be her—Kara—on her golden throne. There were several queens exalted on thrones being carried by the strong attendants, with the minor queens, drugged and dragging following behind on their own feet. But I could tell which one was Kara's throne, because she sat straighter, prouder than the rest, and the rays of the sun reflected off her golden mask and gave her an aura that caused the cheering crowds along the path of the procession to surge slightly toward her throne as she passed, for a last look at the most regal queen of all, which, from our height, gave the impression of her throne moving and parting the waves of humanity as she moved toward the city of the dead, behind the sarcophagus of her husband, the Pharaoh still upon this earth until sunset.

The Hykos kingdom and Kara's father, the Great Khyan, would be proud of the way their princess had done her duty.

I could not watch as her throne reached the barges. I buried my face in Bes's chest and sought what little assurance I could feel there. Bes was strangely calm and quiet. He was taking Kara's last procession well, I thought, and I could only surmise that he was bursting with pride at her courage and majesty.

When I looked up, I saw that the procession to the barges was winding down, that now what could be seen walking—or shuffling in trembling fear—were lesser officials of the court whose post identified them, in intricate and capricious custom, to accompany their Pharaoh into the afterlife—and to make way for a new Pharaoh and his new collection of sycophants.

I had a stab of wicked delight when I saw the Great Builder, Ptah, among those notables. The only disappointment in knowing he had a place on Pharaoh's barge to the sun was that he was walking tall, going to his appointment with the city of the dead with a dignity that did not touch those around him in the procession.

That evening, Pharaoh and my princess sealed in the tomb, Bes and I made love again, and if I had not already been quickening, I knew that this would have been a night of conception. He was tender and long-lasting as he had never been before, and I gave him all he asked for—and more—knowing the mourning he must be in now, a mourning that matched my own.

In the dark of the night, though, he awakened me and told me to dress hurriedly and quietly—not to wake the servants in their sheds in the courtyard behind the emissary's house. He told me to dress warmly—in two cloaks, in a dark color that would hide me in the night.

We walked, silently and quickly, to a mooring above the city of Thebes, still rocking in the festivities of the rise of a new, vigorous, virile Pharaoh. The boatman was known to us both, a faithful Hykos soldier Bes had brought with him from Avaris. On the other side of the Nile, four horses, with muffled hooves, were waiting for us, and Bes, the soldier, and I mounted three of them. The soldier held the reins of the other horse. Once mounted, we rode up into the hills, to and beyond the valley of the city of the dead, to a cliff side just beyond the valley of royal tombs.

Bes and the soldier dismounted and handed me the reins of the three riderless horses and told me, for the love of the Hykos kingdom, to remain quiet and to keep all of the horses silent and with me in the shadows near the base of the cliff.

Bes and the soldier had tools with them—some sort of picks. I sat as still as I could, regretting every ragged breath I had to take, as the two men moved to beyond me to a close location at the base of the cliff and I heard the sounds of muffled scraping and low cursing. And then nothing.

Nothing for the longest time. And then, in such amazement that I almost broke faith and cried out, three figures were emerging from the shadows at the cliff base. The two men had their swords drawn, and I could see in the light of the moon that had just drifted out behind a bank of fleeting clouds that blood was dripping from their blades.

The third figure stood there, while I sat frozen, unbelieving, my heart in my throat and my hand to my mouth to bestill myself, as the third figure stood in the moonlight, the richness of her robes and the golden mask held at her side reflecting the light of the moon back into my wondering eyes.

The men were moving stones back in place, and Bes was at my side, hissing, "The cloak. Cover your mistress with a cloak. Now."

But I could not move, and I had started to cry, with big tears running down my cheeks and making a blur of the glittering, glorious ghost standing before me—but no longer standing. Now cloaked into darkness by Bes himself, in my stead, and being hoisted onto the fourth horse.

Immobile as I was, though, my mind was moving rapidly through the previous short years. The father's love for a daughter intent on balancing that with the needs of state. A man's love for a woman, reciprocated. One kingdom's pledge to another fulfilled—as far as the other kingdom knew. A golden mask denying recognition to anyone now except for the people who loved the woman. A builder whose sexual desire loosened his tongue and guided his construction of an escape tunnel—as well as fed the arrogance that made him believe he was winning a new wife rather than losing his own life. And a Hykos wife conveniently expected to arrive on the morrow at the Hykos emissary's house on the hill above Thebes.

All of these things I can now tell—in my old age and Kara's as well, which, regrettably called her away before me. Her sons, two of them princes of Egypt as well as Hykos and the rest, although identical to the two in visage, Hykos to the core, stand tall, as do my own sons and daughters by Bes. Bes himself has gone to the sun, but nobly, as successor to Khyan the Great—and, I might add, the Wise. There is only me now, and my time draws near, I am happy to say. I long to see Kara and Bes in the afterlife.

I, Amunet, sometime of Thebes but originally and yet again of Avaris, the great Hykos principal city on the Nile Delta, could remain silent, but someone must speak so that the whole world knows how much more clever a Hykos is than an Egyptian—and a Hykos woman, I might add.

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