A Biblical Beauty and the Beast
I’d never tried any kind of Biblical or ancient Egyptian story before, but I wanted it to be as authentic as possible within the boundaries I’d set for why an off-shoot of the Egyptians and the Hebrews were in this particular place at this particular time. I’ve always liked studying ancient history anyway, so gathering facts was a treat. There was so much to delve into concerning the ancient Egyptians (from whom the AEgysians are descended) and the ancient Hebrews (from whom Michael and his people trace their ancestry).
Originally, Egypt had many names, none of them “Egypt.” That name came from a Greek word Aigyptos, a corruption of Hikuptah, “the temple of the soul of Ptah,” which was one of the names of the city of Memphis (not the one in Tennessee!) It was also known as Ta-Sheme’aw, “Land of the Rushes”, and Kemet, the “black land.” The people in my novel, the AEgysians are descended from a group of Egyptians who were exiled from their country and settled in the middle of the continent. They called their new home “Aegys” because the god Ra-Horakhty took them under his aegis, his shield, and protected them.
The Habiru are the Hebrews in the story, also descended from an exiled tribe, this one part of the group who built golden idols to worship while Moses was in the mountains receiving the Commandments from God. In the story, Michael tells Senset how his people once ruled her people before being overcome by stronger forces who made them slaves. They were called the Hyksos, the “Shepherd Kings,” thundering into Egypt in their war chariots, from Asia. Historically, this was about the time Abraham, Jacon, and Joseph came to Egypt. They ruled for three dynasties, until being overcome around BC 1600 by the hereditary princes of Thebes.
Since this story wasn’t to be about ancient Egyptians and Hebrews, per se, but of an off-shoot, I did take some artistic license when using the information I found. Reasoning that a people separated from their main group for generations might justifiably change their ceremonies over the years, I make some of the rituals slightly different from the originals. The AEgysians rulers don’t marry their sisters but take their wives from the countries they conquer, thus making them allies. A ruler has wives and concubines, but has the choice of which woman he marries will become his Prime Wife and thus higher than all the rest.
For my delving into Jewish customs, I was fortunate to find a site called “Judaism 101” which became my primary source. From it, as well as other searches, I learned of marriage rituals, childbirth customs, and coming of age ceremonies, as well as funeral rites.
Writing Bride of the Beast was an enlightening experience, and I hope it will be both that and an entertainment for its readers also.
A political marriage to stop a war…a king whose golden mask hides his face from his people… a princess who loves her husband though she never sees his face…and a curse placed on a royal family by God…
(Senset’s brother has captured a Beast and intends to sacrifice it to Ra-harakhty but the princess wants to see the creature before it dies…)
For a moment, Senset stood still, staring into the room. There was no one around. The dungeon master must be off somewhere having his supper. She hoped.
It was very dark, the only light trickling dimly through an open square high in the wall, just a few inches above the outside ground-level. She could see motes of dust swirling thickly as the air from outside stirred them. Her eyes followed the pale beam of moonlight downward to where it widened slightly, illuminating a bulky object in the center of the room.
A cage…a large cage fashioned of iron slats woven together. On one side, she could see a smaller rectangle, a door with chains wrapped through the slats, a U-shaped padlock holding them together. The dust swirled faster and she felt the wind as it swooped into the cage and out again, bringing with it a thick smell of urine-soaked straw, blood, and sweat. The center of the cage was dark, but in one corner…
She thought she could see a huddled shape, thick, wiry fur standing upright, like the way Bubash’s hair spiked when she was angry or displeased. It wasn’t moving, however.
Is the beast sleeping? One of the soldiers had struck it with the flat of his sword. It was already wounded. Could it have died from the soldiers’ abuse?
Carefully, she tiptoed into the room. Hugging the wall, she stopped in the shadows cloaking the walls and just stood there, staring.
She felt a brief disappointment. She’d expected the creature to be clawing at the walls of the cage, screaming its rage at being imprisoned. As it was, she could barely see anyth—
“Are you going to stay there in the shadows staring at me or are you coming out where I can see you?”
Senset jumped. For a fraction of a second, she just stood there; then, before she realized it, she was taking a step toward the cage. “Y-you can speak?”
“I’m talking to you, aren’t I?” The beast turned its head. She thought she saw the glow of eyes reflecting in the shifting light. “So apparently, I can speak, and more than just AEgyn, too.”
“But you’re a beast,”she protested. “Horem said you couldn’t talk, just make sounds and grunts.”
“Then he’s mistaken, isn’t he?” There was a rustle of straw as he rolled over so he was facing her. She became aware that he was much larger than she’d originally thought. He must have been curled up in the straw. His voice was rough and harsh, like a hound who’d bayed itself hoarse. With a groan, he rose to his knees. The movement sent the mix of smells toward her again.
“He was right about one thing.” Senset raised a hand, flapping it in front of her to wave the odors away. “You are dirty, smelly, and hairy!”
He gave something that might have been a bark…or a grating laugh…and shook his head, a shaggy head with a beard hiding most of his face. “I’ve been fighting a war, little mistress. I’ve been wounded, beaten, and dragged through your none-too-clean streets. Should I smell as if I’ve just been bathed by my handmaidens and anointed with fragrant oils?”
“You have handmaidens?” Her memory of him slashing out at the villager imposed itself over him splashing in a pool-bath while slavewomen shrieked and fled in terror. Would he like water any more than Bubash did? Would his fur stand on end like the cat’s, before being slicked to a sodden mass?
He crawled closer, looking up at her, one hand against the woven bars. It was a real hand, she saw, with four grimy, bloody fingers and a thumb. Dirt under the broken nails. From his knuckles upward was covered by torn leather wrapped in fur…a lion’s paw, the claws still embedded in it.
“More than I need.” A smirk touched the bearded face. “Or want.”
“Horem says that same thing.” Senset wrinkled her nose. Not so much at the smell, she was getting accustomed to that. It wasn’t any worse than being in the stables, really. The gesture was to emphasize her next words. “Men. You’re all alike.”
“Get past the smell and the hair, I imagine I’m as much a man as your beloved General.” His hand tightened on the slats as he hauled himself to his feet with a swallowed grunt. “Maybe more so.”
“Don’t disparage Horem.” She was quick to defend her brother. “He’s our hero.”
“And has one stalwart worshipper, it seems.” He was upright now, towering over her. He was even taller than Horem. A giant. Senset forced herself not to scurry backward into the shadows again.
“He’s my brother.”
“I beg pardon, your little majesty.” He bowed slightly and nearly fell, clutching at the bars again.
It was difficult to read his expression what with the gloom, the dirt, and that beard. Senset had never seen a man with hair on his face before, except for that little stubble Horem and her father sported before the Royal barber shaved it off. It was oddly fascinating.
“Half-brother really,” she was surprised to hear herself explaining. “I’m just the daughter of a seventh wife. But he knows my name. He speaks to me.”
“You’re double-blessed then, aren’t you? Aram.”
It took her a moment to realize he’d given her his name.
“Sensete-Ra.” She executed a clumsy dip of a bow.
“She who carries Ra before her. A name which can be interpreted in many ways.” It shouldn’t have surprised her that he knew the meaning of her name. Still, it did. This beast wasn’t fitting anything she’d heard about his kind at all.
He shambled closer. One hand cradled his side and he winced as he moved. He stepped into the little cone of sunlight and she saw that the fur on his arms and body, like that on his hands, wasn’t really his. He was wearing an animal skin, several of them, sewn together. They were laced over what appeared to be a leather tunic of some kind. Soft leather boots held in place by wrapped rawhide strips covered from toes to knees, with heavily-muscled thighs showing beneath the tail of the tunic. The garments and his legs were covered with dried mud and grass.
He staggered slightly, falling against the wall of the cage, and inhaled quickly and sharply as he regained his balance by clinging to the slats again.
“You’re hurt!” The fur covering his upper body was torn and bloody as was the shoulder beneath it. Why was she shocked? She knew it already.
“Told…you.” The words came out breathlessly. “Didn’t I…say…I’d been wounded? You should listen to what people say, little mistress.” He took his hand from the slat long enough to gesture. “The General did that with his spear. The soldiers beat me when I fell. Broke a couple of ribs, I think.”
“You need a physician.” Senset’s gentle nature awoke. No one, not even an enemy should suffer so.
That earned her a grimace that might have been a smile. “I’d rather be fed. Didn’t bring any meat scraps to feed the animals, did you?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t.”
“Hm.” He cocked his head slightly, reminding her of how the hunting pups acted when she spoke to them. Not that he looked like one of the pups. They were slim and sleek. “Does anyone know you’re here, Sensete-Ra?”
“No.” Why would he want to know that?
“You shouldn’t admit it,” he cautioned. “I could kill you and no one would know.”
Bride of the Beast will be available from Class Act Books, http://www.classactbooks.com/processxml.asp?tid=BRIDEOFTHEBEAST&StyleSheet=title.xsl.com