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Egypt the first of the lifetimes
Seshat stood at the entrance to her workroom built against the wall of the villa. She stared into the garden. Though chaos ruled the Two Lands, in this house at a distance from Thebes, only echoes of the troubles were heard. How fortunate that her father, Nomarch Sehetep, had distanced himself from the politics of both halves of the divided land.
She heard her younger sister giggle and watched her run toward the workroom. "What have you done now?"
"Spied on Father," Tiy said.
Seshat shook her head. Tiy hovered between childhood and womanhood. She delighted in mischief.
Seshat left the doorway and reached for the tallies of the recent harvest.
"Don't you want to know what I heard and what I saw?" Tiy's warm brown eyes sparkled with mischief.
"We have guests. From Thebes. Oh, Seshat, they are the most handsome men I have ever seen. They seek father's support. One of them wants the Double Crown. Maybe he will choose you as his wife and ignore Nefru."
Seshat sighed. If she were chosen, Nefru, daughter of their father's dead first wife, would be furious. Though Seshat's mother had been a princess of a past dynasty, Nefru denied the claim. Seshat sighed. Anyone seeking Sehetep's support would choose the oldest daughter. Since no sons had been born to the house, Nefru's spouse would claim the nome when Sehetep left this world.
"We're to eat the evening meal with them," Tiy said. "Nefru stamped her foot when she heard. When these men see you, they won't look at her."
Seshat shook her head. That would bring spiteful attacks from her sister. Besides, Seshat had no desire to leave her father. Wasn't she his right hand and his star to comfort his last days? She lifted a quill and began to record the number of baskets of harvested grain.
Before she finished the tally, Bastet, her aging maidservant, entered. "Come, child. You must make ready for the evening."
Seshat put her quill and papyrus aside and followed Bastet to the bathing room. After washing, her skin was rubbed with scented oil. Bastet combed and braided her hair. Not for Seshat the shaved head and the hot, heavy wig. The maid applied kohl to make Seshat's gray eyes appear more luminous and darker.
"What will you wear?" Bastet asked. "These men have come from Thebes. You don't want to appear a country girl."
Seshat chose a robe of fine linen that covered her body from beneath her breasts to her ankles. The broad straps formed a vee as they crossed her shoulders. For jewelry, she selected the necklace her mother had left her. The electrum semi-circles of the collar were inlaid with lapis. Carnelians dangled above her bare breasts.
"Will you wear the crown?"
Seshat shook her head. She was sure Nefru would wear her finest linen tunic and adorn herself with jewels. Her wig would be ornamented as well. A subtle touch is best, Seshat thought.
She and Tiy entered the large hall where their father, sister and the guests waited. Sehetep smiled. "Daughters, come and meet our visitors. Seshat, how like your mother you look. She was the loveliest flower in my garden. You are indeed the star to delight my last days."
Nefru's lips thinned. She glared. Rings glittered on her fingers. Her armbands were studded with gems. The nipples of her heavy breasts had been colored with henna.
Seshat ignored her sister's displeasure. She kept her eyelids lowered as her father drew her toward the guests. "Mermeshu, Commander of the Army, and Intef, his advisor, my daughters, Seshat and Tiy."
Seshat glanced at the men. Both wore kilts and tunics. A jeweled pectoral gleamed against the pale linen of Mermeshu's tunic. The men were taller than her father. Mermeshu had the arms and shoulders of an archer. Though of slighter build, Intef seemed fit. She shuddered. His eyes had the coldness of a serpent.
Mermeshu's dark eyes captured her gaze. As though to see her better, he smiled and stepped back. Her skin felt hot. A throbbing low in her belly brought an urge to touch and be touched by him. Her nipples tightened. His smile broadened.
In that instant, Seshat knew she desired this man for all eternity. Hathor, goddess of love, bring him to my side. Fill him with desire for only me. Let him see my beauty and my grace. Bring him to me.
Nefru clapped her hands. The serving maids set the individual tables before Sehetep's chair and the stools for the others. Since this was the main meal of the day, course followed course. Beef, lamb and goose were served with lentils, carrots and spinach. Wine and beer were lavishly offered. The meal ended with melons, figs and dates. Though Seshat ate, she tasted nothing.
Mermeshu and Intef spoke of the Hyksos who controlled the north and of the troubles in the south. Many men competed for the Double Crown, but only one could wear it. Mermeshu had come to ask for men, supplies and coins. He believed with the army's backing, he could win the crown and drive the usurpers from the land.
Bits of conversation entered Seshat's awareness. For twenty years, the land had been torn asunder by men who wished to be pharaoh. Then came the Hyksos with their chariots and armies. Only a united Egypt could repel them.
Seshat had no care for tales of war or warnings of battles to come. Her body thrummed with a desire she didn't fully understand.
When the meal ended, Nefru signaled the slaves to remove the tables. "Mermeshu and Intef, would you like to stroll in the gardens?"
The men rose to follow her. Seshat paused beside her father's chair. "Do you wish me to play the harp?" Though she wanted to join the others, her first duty was to him.
"Go to the garden." He patted her cheek. "Star of my last days, you have your mother's heart."
Seshat kissed him on the forehead and strolled into the garden. Nefru walked with a hand on each man's arm. Tiy was nowhere to be seen. Had Nefru sent her away? The trio paused beside the pool.
"Alas, my father has no sons or male kindred," Nefru said. "The husband I choose will be fortunate. All this will be his."
"And your sisters?" Mermeshu asked. "Have they no share in your father's wealth?"
Nefru snorted. "Daughters of concubines have no standing. They will be grateful for what I give them."
Intef laughed. "Don't you mean what your husband gives them?"
Nefru smiled. "He will be so entranced with me, he will do as I wish."
Seshat joined them. Anger sizzled through her veins. "Nefru, you can insult me but not my mother. She was wife to our father, duly witnessed in the temple."
Nefru giggled. "I'd forgotten. She was only second wife and brought nothing of value to the marriage."