Leg Post 123 opens in 1475BC with Hatshepsut, pharaoh of Egypt, visiting the neighbouring land of Punt, which she opened trade with. The land broke away from Nubia, bitter enemies of Egypt, to make trade with other lands, bringing Punt the status of new money and desperately trying to emulate Egyptian culture. She is joined by her only daughter, Neferure, who complains that Punt smells bad. Her vizier, Senemut, also arrives, and complains that they could get better trade deals elsewhere. She and Senemut are in a not-so-secret relationship, which even the workers of Deir el-Medina knew of and created a pornographic image of the queen and Senemut on the walls. On the way to the Palace of Punt, the adults flirt with each other and Hatshepsut points out that Neferure may soon be married and needs to know these things. She also clarifies that they will trade with Punt to bolster the land and help to strengthen it against their mutual enemy of Nubia. When they finally meet Queen Ati, she is obese and so lazy that she must be carried even within her own palace. Worse, she is curt and rude. Hatshepsut refuses to remain and becomes equally curt before leaving with the deal in place.
The Queen of Egypt was tall. At least, she was tall for 1475BC. She embellished her face with a myriad of cosmetics; skin whitening, eye liner, eyebrow darkener. Animals and plants were crushed into pulp every day to make these advanced cosmetics available and many of them had to be imported from foreign nations. Hatshepsut’s boudoir was a sensuous chamber of scents and oils for massaging and the Kingdom of Punt was the closest source of those fineries. Of course, it also had a stupid name and that was entertaining enough for Hatshepsut to visit personally.
She held out her delicate hands for two guards to reach out and lift her from the back of the chariot. The chariots were a new invention, brought to Egypt by past invaders. Many told of far older chariots invented by the great Ozymandias and his fabled architect of the gods, over a thousands years prior, yet those great works were lost to time. The chariots had changed the face of the Egyptian military and allowed them a great supremacy over their neighbours, which would include Punt should war ever break out.
Hatshepsut took small, unhurried steps and her body moved languidly, as though she were perpetually listening to melancholy music in her dainty ears. She gazed at the sky for a long while before she continued her tiny-march towards the palace. It was not a very impressive monument, resembling something that Egypt might have used two or three thousands years prior. Even the mayors of cities had bigger establishments. Yet this was the palace for the Queen of Punt, Queen Ati.
The whole city was dirty, crowded and ramshackle. Once part of Nubia, Punt had found greater success in trade than in warfare and broke away from its old master to attempt peaceful moneymaking escapades across Africa. New money meant rapid growth, but without the millennia of skill and refinement that Egypt had earnt. The temples and buildings were derivative of Egyptian architecture and even the Nubian gods were merged into imagery of the Egyptian Pantheon.
Unlike Egypt, which was crammed with a multitude of cultures and races, Punt, like Nubia, was inhabited only by black people and so the lighter skinned Hatshepsut, with her north African brown complexion, was a novel sight to behold for the local people who gathered around to eye this exotic northern beauty.
Neferure: “Mother, this place smells bad.”
The queen stopped and tilted her head to the sky, thinking of the best way to diplomatically scold her daughter without making a scene. She then spun on her heels and looked down at the twelve-year-old.
Hatshepsut: “This is not our land, Neffy. You do not have the right to criticise.”
Neferure: “But it does smell!”
Hatshepsut: “And with our money, they will be able to build a better city. One that does not smell so bad.”
Senemut: “Though, we could get better deals for our needed wares elsewhere…”
The queen looked up to see her vizier approaching. He held an orange peel to his face to ward off the stench. His face was in a perpetual grimace, unhappy to be in such an uncomfortable place. Most men of learning liked to have a smart beard on the chin, tied up fashionably, but Senemut refused. This was odd since the queen herself often had to wear a false beard to make herself seem as powerful as the male pharaohs in order to keep her powerbase. This made a lot of the servants and workers chuckle, not that she minded much.
Hatshepsut: “You are meant to be my adviser, Senemut. Yet, here I am, making the advisory decisions. Why do I hire you again?”
He managed a smirk from behind the orange.
Senemut: “Because I have a pretty face.”
Hatshepsut scrunched up her face in mock doubt.
Hatshepsut: “I don’t know… I did see that young man with the lovely beard and long hair yesterday…”
Senemut: “You know how to wound me to the core, my queen.”
He was, of course, handsome in her eyes and she loved him like she had loved no other. By her husband-brother, she had borne Neferure but upon his death, and her ascension to the throne in his stead, she had felt and emptiness inside and a loneliness in this political landscape. She trusted nobody, but tried to make peace with everyone. In that darkness emerged the talented and loving Senemut. He became more of a father to Neferure than her true father ever was and far more of a husband. She had caught the workers in Deir el-Medina, the construction town within the Theban Necropolis, making artful graffiti of her and the vizier in the midst of carnal knowledge. Hatshepsut liked the depiction so much, she left it there. But cut off the hands of the artist, all the same.
The three of them continued towards the palace. Neferure and Senemut had to slow their usual pace to suit the lagging queen, who meandered along like she was walking through a pretty garden.
Senemut: “I do understand your logic, my queen. But I am concerned about the expense. These Puntins… Puntians? Puntites? These people are charging far greater sums than we could get elsewhere.”
Hatshepsut: “I know that. And, as I have said, the expense is not just for the wares. Feeding Punt will give us an ally against Nubia. The lands of Ethiopia are ready for their own independence too. Nubia is our closest and greatest rival, especially in war. The more we corrupt it in times of peace, the better our campaigns in times of war. You, and everyone, are thinking too short term. You think only of the now. I think of tomorrow. Nay. Not tomorrow. The next century. My actions will shape Egypt’s future.”
Senemut: “I take it back. Why do you hire me?”
Hatshepsut’s laughter was free and gay. She gave him a little shove on the shoulder, which made Senemut instantly weary of the eyes on them. He tried to counter this friendliness by putting space between himself and the queen, and gave her a bow. She just rolled her eyes.
He wanted to be as carefree as she in their relationship, but true public confirmation might cause such an uproar as to ruin everything that the queen had worked hard to build up. He couldn’t be responsible for that.
Neferure, taking cues from her mother, gave her tutor a shove.
Senemut: “Accosted by females. How will I ever live down this shame? Should I renounce my membership to the male club?”
Hatshepsut: “Well, that artist who drew us together did drew me as a hermaphrodite, you know? Perhaps your manliness is already being called into question.”
Neferure: “What’s a hermaphrodite?”
Hatshepsut put a finger to her gold-painted lips in thought.
Hatshepsut: “How to explain? A dick-girl!”
The girl’s eyes bulged.
Neferure: “A what!?”
Senemut: “My queen…”
Hatshepsut: “She’s more than old enough to know what dicks are, Senemut. Stop trying to keep her as a baby.”
Hatshepsut: “She might even be getting married soon! Best you know what a dick is before then, huh?”
Senemut was growing red in the face while Neferure was frowning with befuddlement.
Senemut: “Well, there is a way to have that conversation. And that way is not the way.”
Hatshepsut: “So much drama over such a little thing!”
Senemut rose an eyebrow.
Senemut: “I’ll have you know I am average sized. Almost average sized. I think.”
Hatshepsut laughed and gave him another shove.
Neferure: “I think you are quite small, tutor!”
Senemut almost died.
Neferure: “The general is much bigger than you.”
Hatshepsut’s eyes were ablaze with joviality at this.
Hatshepsut: “Oh dear, Senemut. Even my daughter is unimpressed.”
Senemut pointed a finger at Hatshepsut;
Senemut: “Size isn’t everything! You should know!”
Hatshepsut: “I should? Why’s that?”
Senemut narrowed his eyes at her.
Hatshepsut: “I hope you aren’t insinuating that my breasts are small?”
That made Neferure giggle. She knew what those were at least. Senemut, on the other hand, lowered the orange to give a broad, shit-eating grin at her.
Senemut: “I would never say that the queen has a couple of fried eggs where her melons ought to be!”
Hatshepsut: “Oh! Scoundrel!”
This time she gave him a whack.
Senemut: “So I get to be called small, but you don’t, hmm? This is sexism.”
Neferure: “Sex!? Tutor Senemut!”
Senemut: “No, sexism. It doesn’t mean--!”
Hatshepsut: “Talking about sex in front of my young daughter, Vizier Senemut. That’s grounds for treason, I’m sure.”
Senemut: “Okay, okay. Let’s, uh, keep it down?”
Hatshepsut: “I guess you’re balls are small now, too?”
Senemut: “For such a beautiful and graceful woman, you have such potty mouth, you know that?”
Hatshepsut: “Potty mouth? Now that’s just disgusting, Senemut. I will not condone that!”
Senemut: “No! No! I didn’t mean—”
Hatshepsut: “Ha, ha, haaaaa.”
Guardsman: “Behold, the Queen of Egypt approaches!”
They had finally reached the top of the steps for the Palace of Punt. The statues were clearly meant to be people but their mushed up faces made them look like deformed baby-people. The eyes were wonky and looked in opposite directions.
Hatshepsut eyed the stonework and was afraid it might fall down with her under it. From within came a troupe of slaves carrying a litter atop which was the queen of Punt. Hatshepsut was shocked that the queen would be carried around inside her own palace.
The slaves stopped and the woman continued to lounge there rather than be set down. One tall slave was running alongside the litter carrying a bowl of fruit to feed the obese queen. Hatshepsut had never seen such a human before. She was wide in every body part; head, stomach, arms, legs and, most noticeably, breasts. The “fried eggs” remark suddenly cut Hatshepsut to the quick.
Queen Ati: “Hello.”
Hatshepsut was taken aback again by such a limited greeting, but mustered herself.
Hatshepsut: “Hello, Queen Ati. I am honoured to meet with you and discuss terms of our new agreement.”
Queen Ati: “Okay.”
The woman chewed on a piece of fruit.
Hatshepsut glanced at Senemut for help.
Senemut: “Queen Ati, I—”
The woman held out her palm at Senemut and then looked at the queen.
Queen Ati: “Only you may address me.”
Hatshepsut: “Is that so?”
Her patience was already wearing thin. She would rather be flirting with her lover, walking the streets or playing games than being so rudely spoken to.
Hatshepsut: “Very well. Do you agree to our terms?”
Queen Ati: “Yes.”
Hatshepsut: “Very well. Have the goods ready.”
She turned to exit, taking Senemut off guard and he practically fell over himself to turn around after her.
Queen Ati: “You are leaving!?”
Hatshepsut: “It seems we have nothing to say to each other. So yes.”
Queen Ati grumbled at her own vizier.
Queen Ati: “I thought she would at least be amusing. What a waste of time.”
The vizier looked at the Queen of Egypt with eyes that begged forgiveness.
As Hatshepsut, Senemut and Neferure went back outside, the queen shook her head in pity for this city. And she was only going to help its queen become lazier still.
Years later, Thutmose III exited Luxor Temple where he had just been appointed pharaoh. His aunt, Hatshepsut, died peacefully and happily. Her reign had seen only minor skirmishes in Canaan and had been a golden age of trade and prosperity that fuelled Egypt with wealth and goods and splendour. She had constructed more fantastical works than any pharaoh in history and hers would be a legacy impossible to surpass. He would have to do something great to be worthy as her successor.
Thutmose III: “We return to Canaan and finish what we have started. The kingdoms will bend the knee to me and become vassal states of Egypt. Quotas of slaves will be met and soldiers conscripted to fight the rest of the Levant. I will use my aunt’s wealth to craft the largest Egyptian Kingdom as has ever been known!”
The people cheered, but the new king saw at least two downcast faces. After a brief celebration, Thutmose approached the aging Senemut and gave the man a slap on the shoulder. To the king’s surprise, Senemut was almost bowled over.
Thutmose III: “Sorry about that! I don’t know my own strength!”
Senemut: “Nevermind, your majesty. I have been beaten more gravely in my soul anyhow.”
Thutmose III: “I understand. And my sister too. You both have a place in my government. I want you to continue your work, Senemut. As Vizier, but also as astronomer. I have seen the work you made. The image of the stars? Masterful.”
Senemut: “Thank you, my king. But I… don’t know that I can go on without my queen. I…”
Thutmose III: “Need time to heal. Grieve, my friend. And when you can cry no more, you will return to us.”
Senemut: “I will try.”
Thutmose III: “Perhaps a wife?”
Senemut: “I shall never take a wife. No other could—”
He caught his words. He never did blurt out his relationship in public and would not now, even if everyone knew it.
Thutmose III: “And I expect my sister to keep her position in the temple. She’s doing a fine job. Although my wife is scheming to get the role for herself! Haha!”
They were now walking through the necropolis, towards the freshly occupied tomb of Hatshepsut. The building was incredible and Thutmose III marvelled at the ingenuity that Senemut put into its construction. Inside was a small chapel for Senemut himself, as well as rooms for Neferure. There were statues of the vizier and his pupil, wrapped in a cloak with the girl’s head poking out. Adorable.
Outside the tomb was a heap of goods on a cart.
Thutmose III: “What’s all this?”
Senemut looked a little shifty.
Senemut: “Objects to be placed in the queen’s tomb. To help her in the afterlife.”
The king poked at some of the wares.
Thutmose III: “These look old…”
Senemut: “Yes. Objects of great majesty and power! Only the best for such a beloved queen.”
Thutmose III cocked his head at the vizier.
Thutsmose III: “And where did they come from?”
Senemut: “Well, from… here and there.”
Thutmose III: “You stole them from the old necropolis, didn’t you? Senemut, you thieving bastard.”
Senemut: “Well, I--!”
Thutmose III: “You had better make sure you steal a whole lot of great stuff for me when I die!”
Senemut gave a guilty laugh and rubbed the back of his head.
Senemut: “I couldn’t let her go without as much as I could get for her. I’m sure I’ll be long dead before you, my king.”
Thutmose III patted the wares and his hands struck a peculiar object. He lifted it out. It was large and had two thick outer layers with thin sheets of papyrus-like material in the middle.
Thutmose III: “Now, what on Earth is this?”
Sauda: “Always so knowledgeable, Hermes!”
Hermes: “I do try to keep up with politics, you know? Oedipus married into power, but he’s proven to be a capable ruler, so I’m told. A strong legacy of Cadmus, the city’s founder. Not often a man married a woman so much older than himself these days. He even hired Tiresias to work as an advisor, another woman. And now you, Lady Sauda, are the high priest and we are in the tomb of a great and powerful queen. How times change!”
Setne: “Not if my father has a say in it.”