By Shubhankar Reddy
Part one: The Great Queen’s memories
The desert loomed large as Maathorneferure’s eyes scanned the vast expanse. Her new home was bizarre in every extent. She was livid, lost and left out. As a fresh stream of tears made their way out of her blood-shot eyes, she wondered if her name had any relevance at all. Her cousin brother Kurunta had said to her, “Maat, did you ever wonder what your name means?”
“What good would it do? Mother told it has something to do with Hor,” replied a young Maat as she munched on a loaf of bread.
“It means, ‘One who sees Hor, the invisible splendour of Ra’, remember, Maat, whenever you feel confused or worried, remember Hor,” returned the young Prince.
Time had aged pretty quickly, imparting wounds to her family and more importantly to her. She was now one of the ‘Great Royal wives’ of Usermaatre Setepenre. At this point, wonder befriended worry and her thoughts pressed forward across the ocean of problems she was sailing presently in.
The night before the wedding took place, her father had said, “Dear Maat, this alliance is one that would erase worry, eliminate fear and encourage Ma ‘at. Our people have long faced floods of anxiety and famines of harmony. You can give them all of the happiness. Ramesses is old, but strong and war has ruined us before. You have to give up a slice of your heart so that our people can have a sip of peace,” said Hattusili.
She quietly said to herself as a gush of cool breeze made her long, auburn curls sway in unison, “Jzft, that is what has happened, not Ma ‘at. Totally unfair, yet never understood. Totally unavoidable, yet unthinkable.”
The palace at Mer-wer was filled with women, many queens and mostly concubines. Maathorneferure could never feel was one of them. The king hardly ever met her. At this point, she began remembering the treacherous and travail-filled journey she endured as the caravan left Hattusa towards the end of 1246 BCE. The king had ensured a grand welcome nevertheless. But he was not present. All the shekels of gold, silver, bronze were immediately transferred to his chambers and all the cattle, sheep and slaves to their confines. It dawned on her that very moment what sort of a union it was. She had even muttered to her mother, “The dowry receives more looks than my eyes. The gold shall shine more than the invisible traces of love in his battle-worn eyes.”
Queen Puduhepa knew it all well, for her own marriage with Hattusili was one that was divinely diplomatic and diplomatically desirable. Back then Hattusili was older and frail, yet she knew his time was right and soon she would be a central source of power across the Hittite kingdom.
She consoled her daughters. Both of them were the new brides of Ramessis. She said, “Becoming a tawananna should be the first and last wish of a bride. Forty summers ago, I became one and till today, my word travels faster than the winds, spreads quicker than the light and stays longer than love. Love the king enough and you shall be lying in a pool of gold, letting power swim to you, leaving a mark never to be erased.”
Part two: Ramesses’s memories
“Paser, do you think this decision of the peace treaty was absolutely the right call?”
“Pharaoh Ramesses, the Battle of Kadesh had inflicted severe financial and psychological losses to our people. Though the victory was split, our people only know it wasn’t. Another war and we could be sown into the Earth along with the Hittites. Fifteen years ago, the Orontes had flooded with bodies, bathed in blood and would not reflect the light of the Sun for days. It is wise, king, if not worthy,” replied the aged vizier.
“Our three-horse chariots, thousands of them, simply got crushed even by their single horse chariots. If it were not for those two spies, we would have won,” roared the Pharaoh as the golden rays of the Sun shone on his ornamental shendnyt.
He took a sip of water and peered ahead, gazing at the lower city and the bustling life. He then resumed saying that it was in the best interest of the people. He concluded, “War can be bought, but peace cannot be. It can only be negotiated. We have to nourish this peace well, for our days and nights need rest too.”
The vizier, Paser nodded and smiled before leaving.
The war had been truly devastating. Ramesses sighed to himself and mumbled, “This peace treaty would be of importance someday. The temples and carvings can only create hope but cannot erase the truth. I shall speak to Hattusili often and maintain our relations. His daughter is hurt but I will try my best to repair the damage.”
He got up and visited the Queen’s chambers. Maathorneferure was staring out at the desert with tear-brimmed eyes. Upon his arrival, she quickly retained her usual smiling demeanour. Yet, Ramesses was a veteran of battles and the experience that rested on his shoulders accompanied him as he read her eyes.
He said to her, “Queen Maathorneferure, I look forward to a time when we roam the gardens, exchanging Hittite and Egyptian stories, singing songs and speaking till the orange ball of fire sets and night falls.”
He left after presenting her a golden necklace, probably of eighteen shekels. It did impress her, but hardly did the impression stay. It swayed away and only stopped still as she remembered her father.
Part three: Hattusili’s memories
Hattusili was asleep in his Royal quarters as the night proceeded slowly. He was drowned deep in sleep, as dreams stitched their way out of his subconscious mind. His fears and failures competed with his struggles and sufferings.
The image of his sick self, running high with occasional childhood fevers, the feel of the night sweats, the persistent cough reverberated within the shell of his dream. He could see himself shivering as the goddess Ishtar stepped down from the heavens with a jar of gold that illuminated the dark room as she approached him.
Throughout his life, he believed himself to be a sukkal to the goddess. The day was still vivid when he met his bride, Puduhepa. She was a priestess of Ishtar and that mesmerised the strings of Hattusili’s tender heart. He very well knew his wife felt little or minimal love for him, yet he could see no other woman in her place. Years later, he knew she was the correct choice, for when he had to fight against his nephew, Urhi-Teshub, it was she who supported him and augmented the will he needed to possess to usurp the throne.
The river of dreams took him along a ride from his childhood to his ascension as king to the birth of his daughter and sons before culminating at the conversation he had with his daughter before her wedding.
Part four: Orontes and her memories
The river meant a chance for life to proposer and civilisation to propagate, yet all men could think of the Orontes was of war. The Battle of Kadesh was just the beginning of blood being amalgamated into the pristine stretch of water. The Battle of Qarqar and the Battle of the Iron Bridge ensured the river stayed red. So did the Caliphate repeat. And today, the river was aged in wounds, agile in memories and avid to get healed. The ISIS and their path to destruction was now bound to drive the river to extinction.
She saw many kingdoms and fiefdoms but never did freedom flow near the soil bed. She was always considered a border, never a binder. The divide was what everyone identified her with. As time flew, men grew in stature but never did they evolve in nature. She whispered to herself, “This blood-stained water, flesh-smeared soil and all-observing time shall run long.”