Hatshepsut

“ This medicine is working I feel,” said Beketaten, as she gently applied the lotion. “ Does it give you some relief, Ama?”

The tall, slender shadowy figure, seated in the dimly lit chamber, nodded her head slightly and then heaved a sigh. The red scars and wounds on her skin were getting worse; the inflammation was unbearable. 

“ When people around you turn hostile, when you’re forsaken by your loved ones then no medicine on earth can cure you any more,” she said softly, as though she whispered her thoughts in the air. 

Beketaten felt a lump in her throat. The royal lady sitting before her was none other than Queen Hatshepsut! A name that was enough a reason to bow down one’s head in reverence. The living female Pharaoh who had given quite a tough time to the strongest of her enemies! 

“ No Ama, everyone is concerned about your health… everyone still …” Beketaten tried to comfort her but the queen hushed her.

“ I’m still the Pharaoh…  and I don’t survive on pacifiers, you better understand that,” she retorted. “You are here to apply the medicine on my sores but the scars that bleed within can’t be cured… don’t even try, they’ll hurt more.”

Beketaten knew that the queen was far too intelligent to sense the dangers lurking around. The latter knew that her blood had started revolting! 

“ You know Beki, last night I dreamt of something… something very strange,” Hatshepsut spoke up, in a soft voice that seemed to quiver a little. “ I saw Amenhotep walking into the court when I was seated on the throne as usual, hearing my ministers. He was carrying a beautifully crafted wooden box in his hands. He came and stood near me, then lifted the lid of the box for me to have a look. I peeped inside … do you know what I saw? My head , partly slashed … and next to my head rested my crown smeared in blood!”

“ O Osiris! What are you saying Ama?” Beketaten screamed in fright; the bottle of ointment fell from her hand on the stone floor, breaking it into smithereens. She started shivering in fear due to the sudden turn of events. 

“ Ana aasef giddan Pharaoh!” She trembled, standing with folded hands in front of the monarch. 

Hatshepsut slowly nodded her head and said, “ Fear not Beki, things around me have already started coming down… I can hear the crashing sounds of the rocks and stones that would come down rolling soon. Ah, those mighty structures!” She paused a little and continued, “ You go now, Beki. Sebnie lwahdie! I need some rest..” 

Beketaten quietly left the chamber. 

Hatshepsut moved towards the window. It was a clear, starry night. She looked up at the stars and tried to find those faces up there – the ones who she desperately needed by her side right now – her mother, her father, the great Thutmose I and… and … 

“ Sara, if history remembers me then it’ll be because of you. I don’t shed tears because I’m not leaving behind a son capable of taking charge of my throne but that I couldn’t be a good husband to you. A husband who could strongly rule his kingdom, take care of his spouse, father sons who could inherit my throne after me. All I’m leaving behind is uncertainty and a number of liabilities… forgive your husband for this, if possible” those were few of his last words… Thutmose’s (II). Those words spoken on his deathbed still rang in Hatshepsut’s ears.. those words that did not let her pause all these years, that did not let her think about her own self, that did not let her foresee her own future!

“ Are you free for a conversation, Your Highness? …”

Senenmut! 

The one and only person who Hatshepsut could trust.

She turned and ran towards him . “Senenmut! … where have you been, Senenmut?” 

There weren’t any exchange of words.  Hatshepsut surrendered herself in the safe embrace of Senenmut. Sobbing profusely, she tried to say some fragmented words but they weren’t clear enough. 

Senenmut mildly stroked her hair and said softly, “ Matkare, get up, be strong… tears don’t suit you, brave queen.”

Hatshepsut took some time and then slowly lifted her head. 

Even in the mildly lit room Senenmut could see her face that looked equally pale, smeared in tears. In front of him stood the queen herself, the Pharaoh- one of the most powerful women rulers of Misr, who would probably be remembered for her valour and victories, for her ruthless ambitions, for the artefacts and edifices that came up in her reign. History might also remember her for her impeccable beauty, grace and indomitable spirit. But how many would even know the actual Hatshepsut – the girl, the woman in her? 

“ Sit down Matkare, calm down,” Senenmut made her sit in her royal couch. She gestured him to sit beside her but he did not, kept standing next to her instead. Though Hatshepsut and he shared a relationship that was beyond all formal understandings yet Senenmut didn’t want to take any chance. He could understand very well that their equation, if it came to the surface, wouldn’t go down well with her people. They would definitely not approve of a tie between a queen and her chief minister, even though both of them shared a very matured friendship, that grew stronger over the decades.

Hatshepsut was barely a teen then when Thutmose II breathed his last. Unfortunately the former couldn’t bear any son who could be announced as the future successor of the king. His concubine’s son, barely five then, was brought in. He was given the name Thutmose III after his father. 

Misr got its child-king but not a ruler who would hold the reigns of his kingdom to run it.  There was nobody from the royal lineage at that point to hold the fort. The ministers found no other option but to request Hatshepsut to rule on behalf of her stepson, till the time he grew up and took charge of his kingdom.

They made a mistake…. A big mistake –  the price of which was paid by none other than Hatshepsut herself !

Probably the young queen wasn’t aware of her worth before. With power and authority, she started climbing up the steps of success in no time. It’s not only the political boundaries that she extended and kept secured but she made an immense contribution towards the buildings and structures that were built during her reign, each bearing her statue, her signature! It’s especially the Deir el-Bahri, her temple across the River Nile, that was extremely close to her heart.

In all these years , the only person who stood by her through every thick and thin was Senenmut. The twenty-year old courtier then, who later became the chief minister to Her Highness, throughout supported their Maatkare ….

“ Tell me Senenmut, have I not rendered my duties well – that of a perfect Pharaoh?” Hatshepsut’s question brought the minister back to reality. 

“ You did Maatkare, you certainly did, “ Senenmut assured her. “ And that’s the reason you could take the name, Maatkare, which itself stands for truth and justice. You are a Pharaoh, the legitimate owner of the throne, even if you ruled on behalf of the King Thutmose III. So what makes you doubt yourself today?” 

“ A Pharaoh is supposed to have the power to connect with God… if nothing else then going by that intuition, my heart says Thutmose (III) cannot tolerate my presence anymore. He and his son Amenhotep have already started considering me as a threat… but tell me honestly , have I wronged anyone, ever? Have I deprived my son and his successors of anything ? Have I not stepped down the mighty throne when it was time? Then why do they fear me? Why?….” She broke down again. 

Senenmut gently patted her shoulders and gave her time to gather her strength to speak again. He knew she had a lot more to say. “ Since the day I took the oath to safeguard this dynasty,” she continued, “ I never rested for a while. I’ve given all my heart and soul in rendering my service so that when it’s time, Thutmose (III) gets a nation that he can boast of. Constructing the temples and the edifices was never to glorify my own-self but to indirectly let the world know that our land is ruled by an able and strong ruler who knows to make a mark on the sands of Misr. 

Thutmose (III) was still young, just learning the art and skills to officially take the kingship …. He couldn’t have done all these. In fact, now that he has grown up and taken charge, he still needs support. He’s a weak soul, physically and  emotionally. He easily gets carried away by flattery and rumours. Amenhotep, the son from his concubine, is exactly taking advantage of that. He has poisoned his mind against me ….” Hatshepsut sighed and paused.

“ This is not the first time you’re facing a challenge, Maatkare. Get up and face it… talk to His Highness, tell him about what’s his son upto…” Senenmut tried to bring back the queen to her form. 

“ Ha ha ha …” Hatshepsut broke into a soft, strange laughter and said, “ Senenmut, you never married, never fathered a son and probably that’s why you don’t understand the power of blood. Standing in today’s time, Thutmose ( III) will only listen to his own blood, his son Amenhotep. You’re forgetting that I’m his stepmother..”

Senenmut remained quiet. He knew that whatever Hatshepsut said was correct. He could already feel the vibes in the air. At the same time he wanted the queen to rise again, this time, for herself!

It’s true he never married. He couldn’t marry as he believed that he was sent on Earth to be with the queen – to guide her when needed, to teach her the tricks of diplomacy , to be her shield so that nobody could take any undue advantage of her position. He loved Hatshepsut in his own way; worshipped her determination, admired her guts! The queen too knew that if there’s any one shoulder where she could rest her head and cry was, his. Their love for each other was nothing but silence, a silence that’s only heard by the two. 

Hatshepsut broke the silence that prevailed in her chamber, “ Look, this is what I’ve finally earned after all these years!” She took her hands out of her veil. “ The Sain says that he has tried all herbs and ointments that he knows about but this skin infection possibly won’t heal now. They pain, they burn but I endure every pain tight lipped because the queen, the Pharaoh is supposed to be much above all pain … even my bones hurt a lot these days. I’m rotting in my chamber but not even for once did Thutmose (III) get time to come and see me!” Her voice shook again. 

A chill ran down his spine when Senenmut saw her wounds. He’s indeed visiting her after a long gap. 

He was aware of Hatshepsut’s infections but didn’t know that it had spread so fast and that bad! 

“ O Osiris! The Swnw doesn’t know anything… we’ll have to call in the better ones . This is terrible Maatkare… doesn’t His Highness know about this?” 

Hatshepsut smiled on hearing his words, “ The throne becomes an enticing house of thorns once you start loving it. I’ve experienced it but could balance myself as at the end of the day I knew that it wasn’t truly mine, it was my son’s. Thutmose (III) is just tasting the blood of its pricks; it tastes out of the world in the beginning but it’s only after sometime when one realises the burden of those thorny pricks. Thutmose is yet to come to that stage. He’s enjoying his kingship now, he doesn’t have time for me …” 

“ This is wrong! I’ve to speak to His Highness,” Senenmut was about to leave when Hatshepsut stopped him. 

“ No chief, you’ll not go to him for me and beg for his attention! This is the Pharaoh ‘s order!” Hatshepsut’s voice was firm. 

Senenmut knew he had to obey when they’re the Pharaoh ‘s words. “ Okay Maatkare, I wont. I won’t do anything that hurts your dignity, have never done anything so far. Let me take your leave now. I’ll return tomorrow to see you. In the meantime I’ll discuss your case with the Sinai, maybe he still has something else, a better medicine to offer.” He sounded hopeful.

Hatshepsut gave him the permission to leave. No sooner he reached the threshold of her chamber, she called him again, “ Senenmut, forgive me if I couldn’t reciprocate to your feelings for me… I respect them but cannot acknowledge them, I don’t have the right to…”

“ It’s alright Maatkare, you don’t have to say anything, I understand… we understand our words even when we don’t speak them, right? And why do you say all these now?” Senenmut wondered.

“ Don’t know Senenmut, felt so .. maybe we won’t see each other again!” she replied.

Senenmut said with assurance, “ Have faith in yourself and everything will be fine as before. See you tomorrow.” 

“ Yes Senenmut, hopefully. Every passing hour seems so strange these days… Senenmut , could you please do me a favour, for one last time ?”

“ Your wish is my command, Your Highness!” a surprised Senenmut waited for the queen to speak. He couldn’t fathom what she would ask for.

“ Could you please bring along Neferure when you come to meet me tomorrow? Low samaht!… I owe my apologies to her as well .. I just want to say aasifa, my daughter!… in order to become a Pharaoh, to save my father and my husband’s name, I failed to become a good mother to you. Forgive your mother if possible!” She said the words in a strange daze, as though she could see her daughter standing next to Senenmut.

The chief understood that she required better medication and treatment. Time was less and he had to hurry. 

“ Okay, Shokran Maatkare!” Senemut left her chamber.

It’s barely few minutes that Senenmut had left, Beketaten appeared from nowhere. 

“ Ama, please may I come?” 

Beketaten’s arrival surprised Hatshepsut. She was just about to lie down and rest. “ At this odd hour, Beki?” 

“ Aasifa Ama, but as I was leaving the premises of your palace, I was called to the harem of King Thutmose’s ( III) second wife. Her Highness gave me this decoction and said that our King has especially got this ordered for you from a renowned Sinai who stays near the Red Sea. The Sinai is known far and wide for his treatment, chiefly for skin ailments like yours. This is to be consumed  early morning tomorrow onwards for the next five days and you’ll gradually see the results …”

“ What, my son, the good King Thutmose (III) got this for me? Are you sure, Beki?” Hatshepsut asked in disbelief. The very moment when she had started doubting her son, this kind gesture from him meant the world to her.

“ Yes Ama, see I told you that everyone is still concerned about you,” Beki said with a smile. 

She handed over the potion to Hatshepsut. 

The queen saw the red liquid inside the intricately carved glass tumbler. Slowly she opened the lid of the bottle and gulped down the liquid in one breath.

“ Ama, what did you do?” Beketaten almost screamed out. “ This was to be taken for five days in the morning! And … and you finished the entire medicine in one gulp? O Osiris! Let me go and inform Her Highness there…” Beketaten rushed out without waiting for any permission.

Hatshepsut laughed… laughed her heart out till tears rolled down her cheeks. “ Nothing can harm me anymore .. nothing! The pain and the burn on my skin wouldn’t subside with five small doses… if it works, it has to be this way! Hatshepsut, the Pharaoh, prescribes her own dosage! … so finally, finally you got some time to send some medicine through a maid for your ailing mother, Thutmose? Shokran son, Shokran! … all the best for your reign son, rule well! And if you miss me ever, you’ll find me in every nook and corner of our kingdom – my statues, my temples, my edifices…..”  her words slurred; she tried to hold the bedpost but missed it and ….

She fell … not to wake up again! Her fall that marked the fall of another dynasty – slowly and silently !! 

***********

“ Whose statue is this? It’s head is chiseled!” Priya asked.

Priya and her family was at the Egyptian Museum at Cairo. Their guide Mustafa was taking them through the sarcophagus, mummies and ancient Egyptian artefacts, preserved there.

“ It’s the headless statue of Queen Hatshepsut, the Pharaoh,” Mustafa answered. “ After her death, her successors, to satisfy their male ego, had vandalised almost all her statues and edifices, obliterating her achievements … they didn’t want to leave behind any trace of the most powerful ruler of their dynasty who was a female. They probably never wanted the world to know about her glorious tenure that outshone theirs….” 

“ Sad!” remarked Priya’s father. 

“ But History never forgets its heroes… She is still remembered in awe and admiration! Follow me to the chamber of mummies, I’ll show you her sarcophagus and mummy…”  said Mustafa with a smile.

They left for the mummy-chamber. 

The half-head statue stood there in solitude and silence – wearing a mysterious smile! 

*********

Author’s Note:

During my recent trip to Egypt, I came across the  statue of Queen Hatshepsut in the Cairo Museum .. our guide gave us a brief about her. Later I did a brief study about the Pharaoh from Wikipedia. Hatshepsut’s death is still a mystery. Some sources say that she died of bone cancer, some refer to her skin infection and overdose of her medicine as the reason of her death, even the theory of slow poisoning also exists. Her story, the little I could know and understand about this queen prompted me to write this piece. In fact, it’s such a perfect timing to come up with a prompt like this. Thank you, Penmancy!

I’m providing the Glossary and Characters as well for one to refer to it for the ancient Egyptian terms/ names & characters that I’ve used in the story. The total number of words used for the story, including the heading and the author’s name, is 2997. The Glossary and Characters , however, are extra… I haven’t counted them as part of the story. You may retain or delete them as per your decision.

And finally, it’s purely a work of fiction – a humble tribute to one of the most powerful females of the World History.

Glossary: 

  • Sain/ swnw – doctor 
  • Ana aasef giddan – I’m terribly sorry 
  • Ama – mother/ queen
  • Low samaht – please
  • Aasifa – sorry ( f)
  • Sebnie lwahdie – leave me alone
  • Shokran – Thank you 
  • Sara – Princess
  • Harem – the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants.

Characters:

  • Hatshepsut/ Maatkare – The fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. She was the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh
  • Senenmut – Hatshepsut’s chief minister 
  • Thutmose (I) – Hatshepsut’s father
  • Thutmose (II) – Hatshepsut’ s cousin and later husband 
  • Thutmose ( III) – Hatshepsut’s stepson 
  • Amenhotep (II) – Thutmose (III)’s son
  • Beketaten – Servant ( the name of the character here) 
  • Osiris – the Egyptian God 
  • Neferure – Hatshepsut’s daughter, her only child. 

The cover picture is copyrighted to the author. The use of the picture is unauthorised. 

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Nayna Chakravorty

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