Egyptian Memory

A short story by Sibyl (Croly) (Hanchett) Schneller. Date unknown; probably unpublished. Transcribed by Jonellen (Chandler) Goddard. Original in possession of Marie (Chandler) Gale.

Under the willow that overhung the garden pool, the great golden lotus flowers were furled in sleep.  The black dog, Anubis, and the tawny cat, Minka, frolicked about, dashing out of the moonlight into the dense shadow of the papyrus, momentarily stilling the voices of the frogs.

Kherek and Amra, twin brother and sister, sat on the garden bench and thought together seriously, which was their usual form of communication.  They needed words only when their thoughts diverged.  Tonight, they had much to think about.  It was their fifteenth birthday, in the eighteenth year of the Pharaoh Akhenaton, and they had just been told that their parents were about to arrange their betrothals.

They were to be allowed some freedom of choice, for they had been reared in the new religion, the faith of the One God Aton, whose law was love.  Their parents would not force an unacceptable marriage on either of them and much thought had been given to the selection of a fairly large list of candidates.

Amra was mentally scanning the roster of possibilities.  There were several attractive lads, any one of whom might, in her casual opinion, do very well as a husband, if she must have a husband.  She liked the thought of assuming adult life, of being the mistress of her own home.

Then she became aware that her twin was pursuing a similar line of thought.  She could see a procession of beautiful girls floating through his mind, one of whom would be usurping her own place in this home.  She was swept by a sudden flame of jealousy that was almost physical pain.

“I could never bear it!” she exclaimed.

“Bear what?” Kherek asked.

“Another girl in my place,” she said, and began to weep bitterly.

“Don’t cry sister,” he said gently.  “No one could take your place.”

“But you would love her – Oh no, I can’t bear it,” and her tears continued to flow.

Now that they were thinking together, they became silent.  They arrived at the same idea almost at the same moment.  Amra was a little ahead, and her tears stopped while she waited for Kherek. “If we were of the royal family,” he began, “We could be married to each other and never be parted.  But we are, almost. You know mother is a sort of cousin of the Lady.  Perhaps we could get permission….”  And they put their dark heads together and planned a campaign.

The parents at first met the plan with a resounding refusal.  But Kherek was wily.  He pointed out the advantage of keeping the property intact, the social prestige of following a custom almost exclusively royal, and, as a delaying action, the fact that they were very young and there was no need for haste.

Some days later the children were allowed to go to the palace to make their plea.

They went to see the Queen, but were told that she was ill and did not wish to see visitors.

“Please tell her we are here,” Amra begged.  “She is fond of us and we will not tire her.”

They were admitted to the chamber where Nefertiti was slowly dying.  She reclined on a couch pale and wasted.  Because of the heat she wore on her head only her scanty greying hair, instead of the luxuriant wig or the tall crown worn in public appearances.  All that remained of her celebrated beauty was the exquisite bone-structure of the face, which not even death would destroy.

She extended a hand and smiled at the twin, who were favorites.  They fell on their knees beside her couch.

“Why the formality?” she asked gently. “Your fresh young faces are very welcome here, my dear children.”

“Dear Lady”, said Amra, “we are not here as children.  Our parents are planning marriage for us.  We have come to ask your help.”  And the Queen listened gravely while they opened their hearts to her.

“Only the Pharaoh is able to give you this permission, you know”, she said finally, “but I will ask him to hear you.”

She called a servant, and sent a message requesting the Pharaoh to come to her room.

“I warn you,” she said, if he is praying or writing a poem he will not like to be disturbed.  Be careful how you approach him.

When Akhenaton entered the room the twins arose and bowed low.  He was a small man, of insignificant presence.  He gave the children a casual nod and hurried to his wife’s side.  She told him of the request.  He frowned thoughtfully.

“Let us seek the wisdom of Aton,” he said.  “Come with me to my study.”

The study was a large room, very lofty with windows facing the east and the west.  It was austerely furnished, the only touch of magnificence being the large gold disk, representing the beneficence of Aton, each of its rays ending in a hand.  It occupied nearly the whole wall.

Akhenaton raised his arms and stood facing the disk in silence.  Minutes passed.  Kherek and Amra thought together, “Has he forgotten us?  Shall we go away?  No, he is seeking wisdom.”

He turned to them, and his plain face was lit with inner beauty.  He looked into their eyes, first the boy, and then the girl, with a gaze that laid bare their very souls.  And then the great room was filled with a vibration like the humming of a thousand bees.  The presence of Love itself surrounded them. Deeper than the love of man and woman, greater than human imagining, almost beyond human endurance.  They sank to their knees and Akhenaton placed a hand on each young head.  “You have the permission,” he said.  “The blessing of the One God go with You.”

So they were betrothed.  For the exchange of betrothal gifts they chose the stone that is the color of blood, both because of its beauty and because it stood for the one blood that ran in their veins.  Amra’s gift to Kherek was a ring and his to her was a gold bracelet set with garnets.

During the next two years they looked forward to their marriage and grew in love.  There was inner happiness, but outwardly it was a time of trouble.  Nefertiti died, and the Pharaoh survived her by only a few months.  The new religion died with its author.  The eight year old Pharaoh, Tutankhamen, became a puppet of the priests of Ammon, and all the old gods came back, hungry and vengeful.

The parents of Kherek and Amra did not live to suffer the persecution, but died peacefully in an epidemic.  The twins inherited an estate greatly diminished by the necessary bribe.

The new regime allowed the betrothal to stand, on one condition.  The couple were to remain childless and bequeath their property to the temple of Ammon.  Innocently they signed the will, not realizing that it was a death warrant.  Shortly before their eighteenth birthdays, which was to have been the wedding day, Kherek was waylaid and murdered by a band of robbers.

Amra, distraught with grief was persuaded to enter the service of one of the temples.  Given the choice, caring nothing for any of them, she elected to serve in the temple of Bubastis.  Under Bast, the cat goddess, she could live in peace.

Minka, now too old for frolicking, remained a faithful friend and went with his mistress to Bast’s temple, where he lived a pampered life until it was time for the little body to be embalmed.

Amra rose to be the head priestess and died very old.  The worn body, carefully preserved, lies in an obscure but decent tomb not far from the grand tomb of the young Pharaoh.  On the thin wrist is a garnet Bracelet.

Without regret Amra watched the body’s disposal.  Then she set forth on a long quest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *