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  • It was not yet sunrise, but already fiery fingertips began to grasp at the horizon, symbolically as the sun god beginning his daily race across the sky. The wind quickened in the dark valley, taking along with it cool grains of sand, where they settled indiscriminately into history at the base of the city gates.

    The city of Giza lay quiet, asleep, around the palace walls, but one light shown in the chateau. A man, who was faded like a royal shadow, lay still on his deathbed. He was surrounded by the successively younger women of the harem, who gathered around his great bed of strong wood and gold. Some cried over him, his old body crippled and weak, for he was not the man they once worshiped and loved. He was no longer a Pharaoh, or a god, but a skeleton that wasted away before them. Whispers of Anubis, the god of death, seemed to echo around the bedchambers, calling the name Khufu. It sent a chill up the spine.

    It was easy to tell the royal queens from the harem girls. It was not their gracefully aged faces, their jewels or elegant white and red linens, but their quiet composure. They were not fawning over their King, like the young sobbing girls. It would seem they had enough emotional scars to scab their heart from feeling remorse for their husband, perhaps they enjoyed watching him die, slowly, coughing up blood.

    “Be gone, women. The sons of the King’s Body approach.” a guard called into the dark room, letting himself sneak a glance at the king, who already looked dead and gone. He whispered a little prayer to protect himself, and looked away.
    “The queens,” said the tallest son to the guard, as the line of boys approached “may stay, if they please. The harem women will leave this place.” The prince lead his brothers into the chamber, and the guard tapped his spear, and what was said was done.

    Like swaying papyrus they shifted one by one, shying away, tearful, after adorning the dying man with garlands of flowers and tokens. The striking young beauties, a delicate jewel from every corner of the world, eyed the king’s sons greedily, for they were now where the power lay, physically and monetarily.

    The sons wore matching regalia of the house of Pharaoh Khumun-Khufu, made of white linens and head dress with traditional red trim. Sparkling brilliantly from their breastplates were the jeweled ram heads, with real horns set in, a symbol of Khufu’s house. Each wore gold chains of respect and honor, each one for different feats accomplished or different heroic acts. Standing with their arms clasped behind their backs, and with similar faces of unemotional stone, they awaited the death ceremony.

    The men were like statues of elegance, ones that could be erected in a fine temple to their father, the guard thought as he again stole a glance. He could not bear to withstand the knowledge of what was happening in there. His attention settled on the tallest son, who on top of the many gold chains, wore a large gold emblem of the sun ray, a symbol of Ra. The center was a heavy ruby, which seemed to sparkle more radiantly in the dark room of death. The guard thought it was quite a statement, and almost taboo for him to stand out this way, and to pronounce his own god of life in the presence of Anubis and Osiris. The young men crowded around their king, who still gasped and hacked at struggled sporadic intervals, yet they remained silent. The Pharaoh had been wrapped in many linens to keep him comfortable, but to the eyes, it was a reminder of the preservation soon to come. His body lay frail on his royal bed of hardwood and gold leaf, seemingly weighed down by the abundance of gifts and garlands laid upon him. His cheeks were sunken in, and his eyes closed, though they darted around inside his paper thin eyelids. His dry lips cracked, when he was able to take in air, and stuck together when his mouth closed again. His right hand laid across him in such a stiff manner that he already looked like a mummy. It seemed peaceful, yet haunting.

    Another of the Pharaoh’s son reached for a wetted cloth, and patted his father’s lips with it and squeezed a little water into his dry mouth. The old man, with a sudden desperation of life, coughed and struggled, hacking blood into the face of his caring son.
    Only four of Khufu’s six sons were there to watch their father take his last breath. The younger women folk waited in their chambers, for it was assumed that they were too faint of heart bear witness to any such horrors. (But unknown to others, a small figure hid under a heavy cloak amongst the servants in the back, disguised in petty servant sandals, despite her clean and oiled feet.)

    To some, the sons would seem distant and uncaring, for that was how their father lived his life towards them. The only love he showed, was the love to his first born, Kawab. It would be foolish not to think that the younger sons didn’t resent their father, and eldest brother, for that exact reason. But it was a suppressed hate, one that was bound to stick it’s bloody and frustrated hand into the situation.

    The chief lector priest entered the chambers with wild raven hair, and carried the scent of burning limestone. He did not even announce himself, but rather made an addition to the silence. All eyes averted to him and his queer scene; bright purple robes, untied, and no sandals. His manhood and large hairy chest lay exposed and robust in such darkness of the chamber. He had with him a case of props he was to use, like a court entertainer, to ensure the passage to the afterlife. He was always looked upon with such strange glances, by those who were unaware of his true power.

    He began to mumble words with a deep, strange voice, in an unrecognizable tongue. He lit incense and placed amulets on the chest of the dying. The burning of certain incense was meant to choke away bad spirits as the Pharaoh’s soul lay unprotected in his body, but it also succeeded in choking the living with its harsh, strong smell, like peppercorns.

    This priest, Djedi, began to chant in deep guttural blasts, where every few sounds he would shout or cry out, with the true dramatism of a holy priest in madness, causing those with fear to jump. The two Queens stepped into the corner of the room, holding the tips of their linen dresses to their mouths to keep from inhaling the harsh smoke.

    The Pharaoh’s eldest and most beloved son, Prince Kawab, was missing from this bedside vigil, along with the youngest of the boys, Hordejef. The Prince was head of a mission to the West, where they were to keep the Libyans from overthrowing the Egyptian hand and to keep their tax money flowing.
    Khufu was leaving his country behind in debt, with massive economic troubles due to his excessive burial monument. The Great Pyramid was started two weeks before Khufu was crowned, and twenty four years later, it still may not be finished within the three months it took to mummify him, when the pyramid was to be sealed. It was bad luck for the King to be sealed into an unfinished resting place. And worst of all, he left this broken land in the hands of a spoiled man-child, Kawab, who would continue to run Egypt in the selfish ways his father did.

    “Khumn, who built your body on his pottery wheel,” The old priest interjected through the silence in a language they could understand. It startled the young men, whose focus was still earnestly in their heads, or on their mothers, who coughed in the corner. They dropped to one knee in respect as he started an incantation, palming the floor and bowing their heads.

    “Give guidance to this noble King, whose death marks only the start of this spiritual journey. He who has built monuments and given offerings in your name. Bless Him, oh, sacred life maker, one who spins the wheel of life, and see that He may live forever in the stars with the Gods. As the sun rises, may you lift this King up into eternal glory and allow Him to ride upon the Nile as the sun may rise and fall. May Osiris proceed true with his deed, and may Ammut find his heart light and full of righteousness. All glory be unto you, for we praise your name, Khunum-Khufu, as you achieve your place in the stars.”
    When the prayer was finished, with the true timing of a king, there was no longer breath inside of the old man. The incantation had been the final mark of his life, just as the sun was rising to take his soul on the journey to the West, the land of the dead, where the sun sets eternally.

    To the priest, this was an amazing omen for the certainty of Khufu’s journey to the afterlife and that a new Pharaoh will rise, strong and true like the sun, to save the country.

    Djedi, who was a medicine man, examined the body and looked down at the young men, who still knelt, unmoving, at the dead king’s bedside. He had delivered each one of them and their sisters, pulled them, bloody from their mothers. He was there when the First Queen, Meritities, died of sickness. He lowered his ear to the chest, with an unbeating heart inside, he nodded to himself and broke the silence:

    “The Pharaoh, who was, is no longer. He has left his worldly body to join Ra in the sun’s journey across the sky. Arrangements must be taken with haste. Allow a vigil, and fly the flag of Anubis. Quickly, open all the windows and doors so the king’s ka does not choke.” he waved in a few servants.
    As the windows were uncovered, and the doors opened, thick smoke of a purplish color, always a mark of Djedi, seeped out, and soon, the room was clear. (By then, the disguised young girl had returned to her room and changed from her servant garb. She waited for someone to tell her of the news she already knew.)
    What was once the bedchambers of the most powerful man in the world, a room full of reverence and regret, quickly changed into a scurried race of sorts. Servants and guards came and went at the various calls of the officials. People came in and out, wailing, crying, celebrating.

    To some, death was a party, especially the death of a god-king like Khufu.

    The queens in the corner of the room vanished from the commotion, but the sons remained kneeled. As if some great weight bare down on their backs, the young men could not move. Perhaps it was the heavy burden of not being loved their father, perhaps it was the heavily encrusted breastplate, or maybe, none of the men wanted to raise and reveal their face, twisted with tears.

    A white flag with a cross of sheep’s blood would be flown in the center of Giza, notifying citizens of their King’s death, along with horns and drums. People would come from all over to try and see the king as he was taken out from the palace, to throw garlands and palm fronds in front of his procession. The women would cry, the men would cheer. The body would then be brought to the temple of Anubis where the rituals of mummification would begin. But until then, he would remain stiff and lifeless on his deathbed, until the household had anointed him with their prayers and offerings.

    “Send a falcon immediately to the West to notify Crown Prince Kawab of his father’s death, telling him that he is heir, and must return with haste.” a vizier directed a servant.

    “No,” the King’s next eldest son, Djedefre, said, raising himself from the floor, revealing his tall stature. His ruby sunray amulet caught the eye of the servant. “This, I will do. I would like him to hear this of tragedy from his brother, and not a servant, whose words are cold and harsh. When I finish my prayer I will deal with this in urgency.” The priest nodded and dismissed himself.

    Djedefre stood still, staring at the body as others rushed around him, like a blur of colors and sounds. He was not chanting incantations in his head, nor thinking words of inspiration or regret. There was a strange feeling that he could not shake. That strange feeling was nothing. He knew his brothers also struggled, but he knew they were not wise enough to understand; they still knelt, some of their breath quick and sad.
    Although Djedefre was forever grateful to his father for the many riches of the palace and of his acceptance towards Djedefre’s Nubian heritage, he could never forgive his King for being cold and cruel. Djedefre was the eldest son from Khufu’s third marriage, to a dark Nubian princess, which made him a child of a peace treaty. Egyptians were a proud and pompous people. Many still did not see Djedefre and his two blood brothers as Egyptian (or even royalty), though they were born in Giza, like their other siblings. But, Djedefre thought, he and his brothers received the same ignorance and disrespect from their father that his true Egyptian half brothers received. There was no favoritism among them, except for Kawab.

    Djedefre’s youngest blood brother, and youngest of all the boys, Hordejef, had accompanied the Crown Prince as a right of learning the trades of diplomacy. He was happy that his little brother was not here, for he would not understand the complex rituals and emotions that took over when a father and Pharaoh dies. Hordejef was the most innocent of them all, and forever loyal to Djedefre. His young figure would be a strong soldier in the brutal plot that brewed within this cauldron of politics and righteousness.

    Still, he stood unmoving, not reciting, but rather just thinking, and plotting.

    There was much to be done.

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