Chapter 23

That late afternoon the remark was made, "So, your majesty, now I'll have to get used to your new name."

Smiling with his eyes shining with love for his teacher and friend, the sixteen nile risings young man said, "You, Baruti, may always call me Ded'e. Besides, it's not official for several days yet."

Eyes twinkled in the folds of an aging face. "I know but still, a pharaoh must maintain a certain stature at all times, you know."

The newly anointed Ded'e grinned at his teacher. He still hadn't felt the entirety of his new title much less his privileges. "I have already made plans for areas where I will not be in public. You and my friends will be able to act as you always have around me."

Baruti smiled in his gentle way. Though not wise in the ways of pharaohs, he had seen enough of the royal relatives who had been raised in status. They had quickly enough become snobs, demanding scrapes and bows from almost everyone. It seemed to be a human foible. He hoped his student of the last thirteen years would not turn, but he would not hold his breath, either.

"And may I inquire as to what your first order of business is going to be?"

The handsome young man's face became blank as he raised his chin. Then he seemed to put some effort into making his lips smile though the rest of his face didn't seem to be willing to cooperate. "I'm going to take my mother out for a walk."

"Is that it?"

"Oh, it will be a special little walk. I have made some arrangements. I'd appreciate it if you don't let her know. I will send for her shortly."

"I'm intrigued. I promise, my lips are sealed. Would you like me to keep her occupied until you call for her?"

Again that enigmatic look. "I've already taken care of that as well. And now, please excuse me dear Baruti. I have things to attend to.

Baruti was glad he did not have to attend the old queen. He could have done it but he was tired after the long day. Thank goodness, installing a new pharaoh was a relatively rare occasion. He was ready for a wash and a quiet evening with his wife. But then, he knew that after the walk his wife, Panya, would be called again to tend to her Royal Majesty to prepare a bath. It was always thus.

Without thinking, Baruti took a path through the pharaoh's great house that led him past the queen's rooms. Oddly, the guards had positioned themselves five steps off to either side of the door. He looked inquiringly at the first one he passed and got a silent rolling of the eyes in reply. Nearing the door, he quickly understood why. That sly pup! The queen had put at least one man in her room; from the sounds of it, possibly two. To say the least, that would keep her occupied for a while. He nearly choked on the laughter that ran up into his throat and hurried on.

Exhausted by the energy of two very needy and wonderfully handsome young men, the woman lay luxuriating in the feeling. The two had had some intriguing and stimulating moves, to say the very least. She hadn't been invited to couple in so many ways in a quite some time.

As soon as she heard a knock and then the new servant Heqet whispering to someone at the door, her thoughts switched from the pleasant memories to the lowering thoughts of 'don't do it, don't do it!' She knew she would anyway.

"Your Highness, a messenger from your son has come."

The woman blindly threw a small clay statue of Min in his sexual power, and shouted, "I told you I was not to be disturbed!"

Already wise in her new mistress' ways, Heqet dodged the missile and persisted. "The messenger says his majesty requests the honor of your presence in his chambers."

"Tell him I'm tired. I'll come later."

Crowding behind Heqet, the man fell to one knee. "He said he would not be denied. If I show up without you, I will be beaten."

"And why I should care?"

"And he will also come here himself and get you Oh Mother of He Who Rules."

The woman's eyes widened in surprise. Half a heartbeat later, her face hardened. "Tell him I am coming."

"I must bring you."

Ankesenpepi snarled. "Give me a moment."

The servant was dripping in nervous sweat by the time the curtain between her chambers and the greeting room was swept aside. He had become almost certain the old woman had decided to let him get his back torn up.

No doubt she was not happy about her nap being interrupted and she was going to be sure everyone else would not be happy either. So what if the pharaoh had ordered it? So what if he now had the power of life and death over everyone? She was safe enough. She was his mother, after all. He shivered at the thought of his fate if he did not bring the lady to his chambers as ordered. Who knows what this new pharaoh was going to be like now that he had full power?

Escorting her at a distance, the very nervous servant finally announced, "Lord of the Apparitions, I have brought your mother as you requested."

When the chamber doors were closed behind her, Ankesenpepi whirled on her son. "And just what is so important you had to interrupt my afternoon rest?"

The new pharaoh doubted his mother had been asleep already.

"Were you asleep? I'm so sorry. I wanted to celebrate my day with an evening walk with you."

Suspiciously, his mother replied, "I would love to. Nothing could be dearer to my heart than to be with you."

Ded'e looked down at his mother's upturned face. He saw her eyes flick from side to side as she observed who might be in attendance around the sparsely populated room My but she could lie with ease! And to think, he used to believe every word she uttered.

"Yes, my little red fish, I'd be delighted. May I return to my rooms and get a robe? I feel the winds will be a little cool this evening, don't you?"

For a moment, just for the least second, Ded'e felt pleased at the reference to the sweet little creature of the Nile. She had always called him by nicknames and that had been one of his favorites. "I have a better idea. Here. I have a robe of the softest material you have ever worn. This will keep you warm.I want you to be happy now of all times."

As he took her hand, Ded'e caught the slight frown that passed across the wrinkled brow. Smiling as if he had seen nothing, he hoped baring his teeth would hide his thoughts. 'Yes, Mommy, you think this is an unusual turn of events. What could it be?'

No one assumed anything at the sight of mother and son walking through the rear gates of great house. True, the walks had been less common in the recent past, still everyone had seen it before. Why should the crowning have changed the precious relationship between the two now? The only thing different a few truly observant would notice is that now, son was in the lead. However, now that he was a god, that is as it should be. She had only been regent and before that wife to two pharaohs. Both were powerful positions only now she was merely a court woman, following her son on a walk.

No sooner were they out of sight from the city's white walls, Ded'e tugged slightly on his mother's hand. He knew she expected to go on one direction, the one they so often used to take. He, however, had other plans.

"How about a boat trip, Mommy? It's been so hot during these last few days. I want to be cool for a few moments." He could see her judge whether she could permit such behavior from her son.

"I'm sure it will do you good, my child. Please, though, not too long? You know how nauseated I get on boats."

"As a matter of fact, it will be just long enough. Then, we'll walk and then, well, you'll see."

"What do you mean?"

"You'll have to wait and see."

"A surprise, for me?"

"Just wait." Again, he tried to make his mouth smile. After the day of rituals, confirmation, ceremonies, and all, he was so tired! Then the plans for this had just about shoved him over the edge. What he really wanted was to sleep for ten days not do more ceremonies. Perhaps, he thought, I'll rest tonight when this is over.

As promised, the trip was refreshing and short. The great barge's sail and the rowing sailors muscles slowly drove them south against the flow of the Nile. Everyone could feel the boat resist the now increasing waters that would soon be the Great Inundation that fed the Black Land, K'met. The timing for the landing of the great craft, Ded'e knew was nearly perfect. Stepping onto the wood plank from the boat to the shore, he could hear a breath of relief from his mother. How often had she ever listened to his breathing, heard it get shorter and shorter as he anticipated what was to come. Now he was hoping his mother was getting ill. But why? She carried no sack to fill with sand and rocks. It had no long string to whirl with so it could gain momentum just before it hit him. She was helpless old woman on a walk with her son. She had no idea what he was about to do, what he had planned. The illness was his, not hers. He shook his head and raised his hand to his forehead as if to brush away a fly.

Maybe, I'm reading too much into this thought Pepi, I'm too worked up over what will come. He smiled to himself remembering how excited he used to get at the prospect of parties for his birthday. Almost every year, he would get ill from the anticipation. Then there were the days when he knew he would be allowed to command soldiers. He didn't sleep for two days that time when they all fought the desert marauders from the east. Those, he, had won too. The older he got, the more he could command until, finally, he was in charge of all of them. Each of the first times, he had been sick.

As the two headed across the cooling sands Ankhesenpepi turned her head over shoulder. "The boatmen do know they are to wait? Right?"

"I have so ordered."

The quick look showed her approval. "This is good."

After a few more steps, she added, "At long last, my son, the Pharaoh of the Black Land. I have waited a long time for this. It's been so hard being a ruler alone. Now, I'll have help."

"But, Mommy, the burden is now mine. I have been declared the pharaoh."

"I know. And you shall be beside me forever and ever. We will do so well together."

Until this moment, Ded'e had not been completely sure of what his mother thought would happen once he had been declared ruler of the upper and lower Nile. He did not even want to think of what she would do if he told her he had no intention of allowing her to rule beside him.

"Oh, what's that?"

They had walked to the top of a small dune and sitting at the bottom of a depression before the next dune was a large tent. It was made of heavy linen canvas tinted in dark tones. Two poles on either side of an entrance carried the new flags of Pepi II. A second tent, smaller, stood off to one side. No sign of life showed in the sands around the outside or within the blowing curtains covering the interior of either tent.

"Is this another party? Where are the servants?"

"Have patience, Mommy. Come. It's not a party, exactly; it's just something new to experience."

Ded'e drew the woman to just outside of the entrance to the large silent tent.

"Now, you stand here and wait. I'll be back out in a five heartbeats." So saying, he drew the flimsy curtains to one side and stepped in.

Hardly five seconds passed before the old queen called out, "Where are you? Why can't I come in?"

The figure that came out nearly sent her into a faint.

"Because we were not ready." The voice from inside the heavy mask was muffled but clearly that of Pepi.

"Great Osiris! Ded'e, what are you doing in that thing?"

"I am not Ded'e, I am Anubis and I am here to lead you on a great journey."

The new pharaoh had donned a black mask in the shape of the pointed eared dog, the caretaker of the dead, Anubis.

"Stop this! You're frightening me."

"Please you who are mother to the ruler of the land now, just a moment of your time and all will be clear. Don't you want to please me?"

The woman paused, her eyes narrowed in speculation. He could see her asking herself why should she want to please her son? Why would he even ask? "What are you talking about?"

"Close your eyes and put your two hands out together in a cup to receive something and then you shall know."

"A gift? Why didn't you say so? What is it?" Even as she spoke she closed her eyes and put her hands out.

Her eyes had been so centered on the mask she hadn't noticed what he carried in one hand. As soon as her hands were in position, he nodded to the figures hidden behind the sheer black curtains and then swiftly took the cord he'd brought and looped it around her wrists and then bound them together tightly. Equally as swiftly, three men came out and grabbed Ankhesenpepi by her ankles and under her arms and picked her up.

"Hathor's shit! What are you doing?"

Ignoring her shouts, Ded'e followed the men carrying the struggling figure into the dark tent. Even though there were openings facing the setting sun, it took a few heartbeats for his eyes to adjust to the comparative dimness.

As they'd been told, they tied the woman's bound hands over her head to a crossbar at the top of the table and then each ankle to the legs at the bottom of the table. Their movements were swift and professional because, by Ded'e's understanding, that is what they were. He had hired a trusted guard to find these men who were no better than crocodile dinners in the back alleys of a northern coastal border town. They were given food, beer and clothing to come with a promise of enough of the same to feed and clothe families for a month if they performed a certain task. They had no idea who the woman was or, for that matter, who Pepi was.

Once they were done tying the old woman, they stood back and waited expectantly.

"Leave now."

"What about our pay?" The accent was so heavy Ded'e wasn't sure he understood but the outstretched palms left no doubt.

"You will walk over that dune where you will find a group of men. You will wait with them until I come to you. At that time, I will give permission for your payment."

"How long?"

"Before full darkness sets in. Then you will be led to a boat where you will be taken back to your homes."

"How do we know?" They were older than Pepi by a full ten Nile risings and, in spite of assurances from the well-dressed military man who had hired them, they were beginning to have misgivings about this business.

He still had his mask on and knew the power it held so he stood straight and unmoving and raised his voice slightly. "Because I have so decreed it to be. Now remove yourselves from my presence or you will never see your families again."

The men decided to take their chances and left.

Thankfully, while he was dealing with the men, his mother had fallen silent. As soon as the curtains fell behind them, however, she shouted, "Are you going to let me go now?"

"No, I am not." So saying, he searched for what he had ordered.

Opposite the two window openings in the western wall of the tent, was a table set with several objects. The sunlight came through the windows and brightly lit the table. A length of linen folded several times was at one end, then a small river rock, and finally a strip of linen. First he picked up the material and then the rock. He opened the material by one fold and inserted the rock and turned to the table.

"I know you are never going to be silent so I shall have to make you be quiet. Open your mouth."

As he expected, she snapped her mouth closed and glared at him.

Inside the mask he pursed his lips and cocked his eyebrow. He'd known she would do this and yet, had hoped she wouldn't. "Alright then."

Swiftly, he inserted his left hand down her dress, pinched the nipple of her breast, and squeezed as hard as he could. As soon as her mouth popped open in surprised pain, he inserted the lump between her teeth. Quickly he took the strip of material and wrapped it around his mother's jaw, securing it with a knot. He had lifted her head to wrap the cloth behind her head. When he had done that, he let her head fall with a bump.

She struggled to no avail, her angry eyes flashing, her brows knit fiercely.

He stood back and waited for her to calm down before speaking again. "Are you wondering why I'm treating you this way? Think back. Do you remember the walks you took me on when I was a child? Do you remember what you did to me? The beatings? What? They were lessons? You were teaching me? I learned that pain hurts. I shall never forget the pain, the black and blue marks, the broken bones, I assure you."

The young man watched as the meaning of his words washed over the woman. He saw her eyes switch from side to side in the familiar pattern as she looked for a way out of the awful truth of his words. The upward slant of her eyebrows was the old sign of asking forgiveness, of pleading.

"No, woman, the time of mercy is past, long past. You had the chance to ask for forgiveness many times and instead all you did was look for more ways to hurt me. Me, of all people! I am your child, your Horus who you were supposed to care for, suckle at your breast!"

He flung the mask from his shoulders and bent over the now totally distressed woman. "You are about to pay for my lifetime of misery. I have a feeling you were not exactly kind to my father or to my grandfather either." He couldn't help but smile as the light of the late sun came through a window cut in the tent and hit her face.

He turned and bent to pick up the mask. "I have to wear this you know. Ordinarily, it is to save the embalmers from knowing who first violates the body. Since there are no embalmers here yet, it is just protocol."

Actually, it was more than that for Pepi's sake. He didn't want even this woman now to see that he was going to enjoy what he was going to do next.

He slipped the mask over his head and set it so the curtained front under the jaw gave him a view while hiding his features. "Ah, I can see from your face that you are beginning to grasp what is about to happen. Yet, you can't believe it, can you? Actually, you're not even sure what the next step is. After all, you have never concerned yourself with death, have you? One minute your husbands were here and the next they were being put into a tomb. Did you even see either of them die? Oh, wait, you saw my father die, didn't you? You weren't suspected of poisoning him, were you? A mere oversight, I'm sure."

While he rambled, he turned, picked up a flint knife from the table. Continuing to talk he mused over the extremely sharp edge, "Did you know that when a person is mummified their insides are removed first? No? I didn't either. Here, let me explain."

He approached the left side of the table opposite of the sun. "Of course, the corpse is naked."

He removed the short sword he carried at his side and slashed through the material near the bottom of her dress. He was pleased at her sudden bolt of tension as the blade hit the table between her legs. He sliced down, pleased that the finely woven material split so easily. Then he took the upper part of the rip and pulled the dress apart to the top where he finished the job with the sword and then slid it back into his waistband.

"Now, the rest is really rather basic. The man in the mask, me, then makes a cut with the sacred knife in the side, like so."

He picked up the flint knife and pushed the point of the blade into the woman's side. The thin skin did not give way easily. He had to use more force than the embalming priests who had taught him these techniques. But then, he realized, this was a live person and her muscles were being held taught where the skin of a corpse, ready to be embalmed, was flaccid. Her anguished screams were barely muffled behind the linen and rock. When he finally penetrated the blade through the skin, the blood flowed copiously onto the table and into the sand beneath. Only his training as a soldier had shown him how much blood would there would be. Having penetrated the skin, he lifted the blade and moved it across her abdomen making a slit that was about a spread hand's width. Then he removed the knife, found the bottom of the ribcage and pushed down, and cut down leaving a left angle cut.

"Now, this is where Anubis leaves and the rest is supposed to be done by the embalmers. It's just that I don't think they are quite used to dealing with something other than a corpse so I'm going to continue."

Pepi laid the knife in the spreading pool of life fluid and reached inside. "Ah, yes, I grab here and pull. I'm supposed to use a knife and I will in a moment but I want to start doing it this way." A bulbous mass popped out. He pulled, remembering the red snaking masses being pulled from men on the jetty. Taking a bronze knife in hand he cut at the top and was surprised at the burst of noxious gas. Not stopping, he pulled at the bloody rope like material at the other end until it was taught. Then he cut again. Picking it all up, he placed it in one of the bowls on the table.

He'd been so busy, he was surprised to look into the woman's face and see she was still conscious. He had seen men's guts out on the battlefield before and they'd fallen like stones.

"Still with me? Good. Now I take this piece."

So saying, he reached laterally up to her right side and found the spongy mass he expected and pulled. It came out with assorted gooey parts which he slashed haphazardly. He would let others worry about the fine parts of the job. He took the large oddly shaped piece and put it into another bowl

Now, knife in hand and almost up to his elbows in gore, he reached higher into the chest cavity and found the double lobed, even more spongy parts he'd been told to find. He cut at the branches that seemed to hold them in place and pulled. He took the dripping mess to the next to the last bowl.

Though she was writhing, struggling as if to breath, she lived, blood pouring from her mouth. He put his hand in one more time he found her soul. It was beating erratically, quickly then slowly but still showing the sign of the life he hated so much. He wrapped his fingers around it and squeezed with all of his might and then pulled. Even the living tissue couldn't resist the power of the young man's pent up anger. The faltering heart came loose and he dragged it down and out. He had been told he was supposed to leave this in the body but somehow, he just couldn't.

Finally, his mother closed her eyes and her body relaxed.

The light from the sun was now almost as red as the drippings from the table. Since Re was still some time before retiring, that meant a dust storm was coming. Odd he should think about that. He'd just slaughtered his mother. Yes, she was finally dead.

The realization sent his head back as far as the mask would allow and he let out a roar. Whether it was a cry of grief or of triumph Re would never know.

A moment later, he stumbled out and to the other smaller tent that he'd ordered to be set up for him. Inside he found the floor carpeted, and several urns of water set up on tables.

Just as the red-dusted sun was touching the horizon, he made his appearance to the group of men waiting for him two sand dunes from the tents. They all rose respectfully.

Indicating the henchmen he had sent from the larger tent, the newly crowned pharaoh said, "These men shall be paid twice what they were promised. They performed well. Send them home."

As they were marched off by a pair of his personal guards, he added to the commander beside him, "Mark their faces well. They are not ever to return to this area again."

Without another thought, he turned to the group of priests. He pointed over the sandy ridge from which he'd come. "In that direction you shall find a tent with a body inside. I watched Anubis perform most of your job. It was royalty at one time. Finish the preparation for the afterlife. All you will need is in the secondary tent."

He turned away and began to walk toward the lowering purple darkness in the east.

On the way to the palace, Pepi couldn't help but continually examine his hands and arms for the blood. He'd been very careful to wash himself from head to foot several times and yet, he could swear he still felt the sticky mess. He wanted to dive over the side off the royal barge and let the water wash him again and again, but he knew that would look quite strange to say nothing of being dangerous. No, he would wait until he reached his private rooms. No one would think it strange of him bathing after a walk in the desert.

It was Baruti who asked. It had to be Baruti, the one man who he could never punish for being straightforward. He just happened to see the royal party disembark. "Sire, where is the Great Queen?"

"Baruti, the news is not good. Please call the entire household into the great hall. Meanwhile, I will prepare myself."

Years of being taught how to say just so much and no more, how to satisfy the most intense curiosity yet giving only the least information was paying off. He watched Baruti turn, a stunned look on his face, and head into the grand house. Satisfied, he summoned a servant to run to his quarters and order water to wash with. He knew that by the time he arrived and after he decided on what he would wear, the water would be ready.

He was completely unconcerned that the crowded great room was obviously filled with confused unrest. He had kept these people waiting for news that could be anything from civil revolt to invasion from the western invaders. Perhaps this was not the best way to start his reign; on the other hand, for himself, now pharaoh, this was the best of all possible ways.

He had decided that his costume for the announcement would be the same he'd worn for his crowning. Officially, the double crown was the white crown of the upper Nile, the mounded crown representing Nekhbet the white headed vulture and the red crown of the desert surrounding the delta with a wire protruding representing a bee, the symbol of that area. Finally, he had changed shown himself to the people wearing a representative crown, all white with the delta crown outlined in gold with a gold wire and the white crown dusted in gold powder. This plus gold jewelry made his connection more clear to the gods who had skins of gold.

As soon as he appeared in the hall, the crowd fell silent and a path was opened to the throne.

He didn't take his seat but remained standing. "I have the most distressing news. The Great Queen, Ankhesenpepi, is dead. I felt her last shudder as if I held her heart in my hand."

He waited for the rumbles and cries to dissipate. "I have much to do and I hope you will all bear with me over the next weeks. While I assume the throne I must live with knowing my mother is being mummified. After she enters the tomb she spent so much time having prepared for her, I will know more of what is to come for us all. I trust you all to do as well as you can until then.

With that, he dramatically dropped is head and, keeping his eyes on the floor ahead of him, he left the large hall.

Once in his rooms, he checked to make sure no one else was present. Little did he know that after that he repeated the actions of his own mother the day his father died. He lay on the bed and holding a blanket to his face, he laughed until tears came.

A while later, he began drinking the wine he'd ordered to be left by his bedside. It was the one and only time the young man got drunk alone. After that evening, Pharaoh Pepi II, lived life to the fullest all of his ninety-six years.