31 Days of Halloween – Toni V. Sweeney

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).
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.
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.
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. 
political marriage to stop a
king whose golden mask hides his face from his people
a princess who loves her husband
though she never sees his face
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.
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,
“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
“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?”
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
“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,