Mut stood at the edge of her balcony and looked down at the sun parched land of Egypt and the life giving waters of the Nile that snaked its way north to the sea. "The Festival will begin soon," she thought. "Another like all the others. But what would she find of interest this year?" she wondered. For more than ten years the Festival had been disinteresting. "Why do I continue to bless this shallow land?" she asked herself.
Amun stepped to her side. "What do you see, my love?" he asked.
"Nothing. Only a faint hope. There may be one who will save me from my boredom this year," she answered in both frustration and hope.
The Lady Neha watched the dark green water slide quietly along the sides of the dhow. The sun had not even risen above the mountains to the east when she had boarded the boat in Memphis for the five-day sail up the Nile to Karnak. Now it was close to noon on the fifth day. Even this early in the day the brutal Egyptian sun beat down. The awning over head shaded Neha, but even so, it was already becoming warm.
She reached out and took a pomegranate from the bowl next to her divan and handed it to her servant girl, Seta. Seta opened the fruit and carefully scraped the succulent seeds into an alabaster bowl. Neha stretched on her divan and wondered when they would reach the temple complex.
As she looked around, she could see many more dhows moving against Nile current. "Soon," she thought. "Soon we will reach Karnak and the coolness of the Temple." Neha stretched again and sat up. She stood and found she could just glimpse the white, limestone temple in the distance.
"Yes, my lady," said Kha, the boat captain. "We should be there shortly. We have a fair wind at out backs and are making good time."
"How long, captain?" asked Neha as she looked toward the south.
"We should be there just after mid-day, my lady."
Neha went back to her divan and began dipping her fingers into the bowl of pomegranate seeds Seta had left for her. The seeds she washed down with wine from the Pharaoh's "House of Atum" vineyards in the delta. Both the seeds and wine were warm, but they did pass the time. "And the Chief Vintner, Penamun, always produced the finest, most delicate wines," she thought.
"If I had anyone to play with I could play Senet to while away the time," she thought. "My young cousin, Djehutymes, played the game incessantly. Then, those who were destined to be Pharaoh did. They need to prepare for the great game with Osiris in the afterlife." Then with a grimace, she thought, "But who would I play with? Seta is much to dull and the captain is just so common." Neha thought back to the many hours she and her husband had played Senet together under the cool arbor in their garden. Of course, she always let him win. That was only fitting.
A shout went out from the boat just ahead of Neha's. She rose and moved forward to see. Now that the boat was closer, she could see next to the dock at Karnak, the great dhow of her aunt, Queen Hepshetsup. The boat was spectacular. Its hull was made from the finest cedars from Lebanon. The boathouse was decorated with fine paintings, burnished with gold and lovely tapestries. The boat had no sail, but it did have six oarsmen to propel it through the water. The most striking thing was the size. The boat was easily twice the size of Neha's dhow.
"Oh. The Queen has come to the festival too this year. This is going to be just a wonderful time," she told the captain. Neha went to her divan and sat. "Hurry, Seta. You must fix my wig, she said, "It wouldn't do to be received by the Queen looking like a common street woman."
Seta set to work arranging the braids and gold bands in Neha's black, shoulder length wig. "And bring me the gold and lapis pectoral. The one with the scarab. And the gold arm bands." Neha picked up a bronze mirror and looked at her dark face. "Pretty, I think," she thought. "Seta, fix the black around my eyes. It seems smudged."
As the boat glided up to the dock, Neha rose to her full height and stepped across the gunwale onto the stone pier. Seta followed a step behind with an ostrich feather fan to shade the Lady Neha as was fitting her station. Neha's leather sandals clicked on the stone as she walked toward the Sacred Lake. There she found a great deal of activity.
Under awnings, vintners readied their wines. Brewers cooled their beer with ice brought from the Nubian mountains and everywhere people milled about as they chatted and drank from gold, lotus shaped wine cups.
Under a large, ornate awning, sat Neha's aunt, Queen Hepshetsup flanked by two Nubian slaves with large Ostrich feather fans. On her head, the Queen wore the tall white crown, The Hedjet, of Upper Egypt. Her pleated skirt and bodice were nearly the same as those worn by Neha, but included the blue band and sash that denoted the Queens high office. The young women moved directly to the Queen and prostrated herself before her.
"Ah, niece. Arise and join me," the Queen said. Immediately a low stool was brought for Neha and placed at the Queen's left along with a gold, lotus shaped cup of wine. Neha's cousin, Djehutymes, sat at the Queen's right hand as was traditional and correct for the designated prince.
"I'm so glad your husband allowed you to come this year, Neha. And where is your husband?" the Queen asked.
"I'm afraid he was held in Memphis by work, my Lady," replied Neha. "Affairs of state it seems. There is some trouble in the east."
"Ah, Pandar. That jackal. He needs to be taught a lesson." Then as she turned to her Captain of Chariots, she said, "Lotansep! Pass the word. I want Pandar before me in chains before I return to Memphis." The Captain of Chariots bowed low and withdrew.
"Now, Neha, have you ever been to the festival before?"
"No, my Lady," Neha said with a bow of her head.
"Well. Let me explain. We will ask the mother, Mut, for her protection and the prosperity of our nation for the coming year. This is a very important festival."
Again, with a bow, Neha acknowledged the Queen's words.
"And what will my brother, your husband, think when you tell him of 'wandering in the marsh' at the festival?"
Neha thought for a moment. Then said, "And does my husband need to know other than I came to the festival?"
Hepshetsup laughed. "No. I think not, young Neha. Maybe the less said of the matter the better in this case."
A trumpet sounded and Queen Hepshetsup stood. "Follow me, my young, Neha. It's time to go to the Temple." The Queen strode out onto the stone apron around the sacred lake. Neha and Djehutymes followed her closely. The assembled crowd joined them at a respectful distance.
As Queen Hepshetsup reached the top of the steps to the Temple of Mut, she stopped and turned to face the crowd gathered in front of the Temple.
In a loud voice so all could hear, The Queen began to intone the traditional prayer, "Friends and countrymen. We gather here at this Temple to petition the Mother, Mut, for her protection and the continued prosperity of our lands. Mut is the mother of us all. Mut and her consort, Amun, and their offspring, Khonsu have guided and looked after Egypt for millennia. It is by their will that we prosper. It is by their will that our country is great, our army unbeatable in battle. And it is by their will that we shall continue. We beseech you, dear mother, look favorably upon our land and people."
The Queen turned and walked into the Temple to prostrate herself before the great, Vulture-Headed statue of Mut. In the darkness at the rear of the Temple came the sound of chanters who filled the temple with their singing accompanied by a drum. Hepshetsup chanted along from her prostrate position. The chanting grew louder until the entire Temple reverberated with their singing. The spectators and guests assembled at the steps joined in adding to the sound. At its peak, the Queen stood and raised her arms to the statue and all the voices ceased. The Temple was silent.
With a wave of his hand, the head priest motioned for slaves to bring offerings to the statue of Mut. Before the statue, they laid the finest meats and breads, beers and wines. Finally, a he-goat was brought and slaughtered and thrown upon a burning pyre for a blood offering.
Queen Hepshetsup turned and walked out to the portico at the front of the temple. There she again raised her arms. This time to the crowd who cheered.
As the Queen returned to her awning bands began to play and the vintners poured the finest wines and the brewers poured their best beers. The libations flowed freely. Dancing began. Everyone gave themselves to the Festival spirit. Even Neha drank freely under the watchful eye of her aunt. Cup after cup of her favorite wine from the vintners of the Nile delta was brought to Neha by Seta, her servant.
The time was now long into the afternoon and great platters of food were brought for the revelers. Everyone sat in clusters and ate. There were platters of roast Ibex and ducks. Different fish and sweet fruits. And, of course, more wine and beer. The feast continued into the evening.