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History Lesson

by Rebecca Reeves

 
Vincent tossed in his sleep, flinging the covers back and sitting up groggily. The dreams tonight were once again so bizarre! He could recall nothing when he awoke a few minutes ago, only an unsettled feeling. Shaking his head, he decided to walk to the kitchen and make a cup of chamomile tea with honey. At least the tea might make his headache recede. He sat waiting for the kettle to boil and tried to grasp something of the dreams, but only disjointed fragments came to him. They seemed to make no sense at all, so he tried to think of anything else to distract himself. Sitting there with the tea finally steeping in the pot, his thoughts turned to Catherine, who was spending tonight Above because she had an early deposition to take. Since their joining, these nights apart were few. Through their bond, he sensed she was sleeping soundly; so he backed away from her consciousness, unwilling to burden her until he understood more. He sipped the hot tea, savoring the familiar taste. 

Realizing he would get no further rest this night, Vincent decided to roam the far tunnels. It often helped him to think; besides, maybe he would come upon Narcissa, and she always had some new insight to offer. Oh, he knew Father blustered at length about “that crazy old woman,” as Narcissa laughingly called herself. However, Vincent had found that she was wise beyond conventional understanding, and she had often offered an alternate perspective for him to consider. Feeling somewhat lighter, he went down past the Chamber of the Winds, and traveled ever deeper in the tunnels. 

As he turned into a large cavern which contained a small spring that made a pleasant murmuring sound, Vincent saw the object of his search. Narcissa sat near the spring, her eyes closed, listening closely. Before Vincent was able to do so, Narcissa spoke. “Ah, Vincent! Welcome, child. I see you are troubled about something in your dreams--is it not so?” 

“Narcissa, you always know exactly what is on my mind, and I am grateful. I do not quite understand what the dreams meant - the images were so fragmented. These same themes have persisted for four nights now. I do feel they were somehow very important, but...I...” 

“Child, you must not fret; we will see what we can glean from what you do remember. Then we shall perhaps see what your course must be.” she held her arms out and embraced Vincent warmly. He had not known until he saw her, how much he needed that hug. “Come, sit here beside me,” she said softly as she sat back down beside the spring and patted the ground to her right. 

Vincent sat, and wrapped them both in his cloak- the air was, as always, chilly, and they might be here a while. He gathered his thoughts, took a breath and let it out slowly, and began. 

“I seemed to be in a hot, dry place, a desert.  I was in a darkened building, unseen by the people who inhabited it; but I could hear them whispering what seemed to be a supplication. I could not see who or what they were addressing. I saw lions walking in the courtyard; and men feeding them fresh meat. I thought that I saw another being like myself. How can that be? That is all I can recall." 

"Well, child, it may be that you have wandered far in both place and time. Perhaps there is more that you may learn about this other being you saw. Let me see if I have the correct powder with me in this bag --yes! Here is one that will guide you in further revelations. Be sure you have eaten and rested before you take this; there may be a long while before you return to our world. Take only your Catherine's rose with you; it will guide you back to this place." She handed him a vial with a blue powder inside, saying, “This is one dose. The effects last about four hours of our measure; but once you have started your journey, the time may flow differently where and when you find yourself." 

With that, she stood and walked out of the cavern, calling back, "Oh-and do not fear to meet him." 

Vincent wondered who she meant, but decided to follow her instructions. He would, however, tell only Catherine the true nature of his journey--to Father and any others who asked, he would only mention seeing whether some more of the farther chambers could be reasonably converted for living or storage. 

He would wait until he had spoken with Catherine after her work day was completed. Feeling much more settled, he returned to the dining hall for a lunch of beef stew and fresh warm bread with homemade damson jam. 

He had not realized that he had tarried so long with Narcissa.  Sighing, he prepared for the children's Literature class that afternoon. They were reading the first Laura Ingalls Wilder book, Little House in the Big Woods. The pioneer story held their attention, for which Vincent was grateful, as his mind kept returning to the dream, trying to recapture more images. At last the class was finished, and it was time to prepare to meet Catherine at the threshold of her building. Sweeping his cloak about his shoulders in a long-practiced maneuver, he walked through the tunnels. He felt her fatigue, and knew she was glad to be done with this day. Much to his relief, his headache had subsided.  

She smiled as his arms reached up to her waist as she descended the ladder. "Vincent! I have missed you so much today! It was such a long, boring day, nothing very exciting, but VERY long. Testimony in this case is going to be a trial for the attorneys as well as for the defendant!" 

He returned the smile. "That was a very bad pun, my dear! William has dinner almost ready, and I know that will lift your spirits. I'm sure the children have some stories from Laura Ingalls Wilder to relate, as well." 

Catherine looked at him more closely. "What else aren't you telling me, Vincent? Is anyone ill? Was there some mishap in the tunnels?" She turned toward him, her expression worried. 

"Nothing like that. I did, however, have some rather disturbing dreams last night. I had thought to wait until after our meal to tell you about them," Vincent replied, trying to reassure her. Catherine frowned, then nodded and put the matter out of her thoughts until they were alone in their chamber. 

Dinner was lasagna, both meat and vegetable varieties, with accompanying salad and more freshly-baked bread. Sharing the meal and casual conversation of the other tunnel dwellers eased Vincent's mind a bit, and he was more relaxed when they left the dining hall and turned down the tunnel that lead to their chamber. It had been rearranged to accommodate an extra desk and chair for Catherine, but was otherwise much the same chamber that he had occupied since he was a boy. They each sat in their favorite chair, facing each other across the table that held Vincent's journal and pens. Catherine knew that her husband would tell her about the dream in his own time, so she waited patiently for him to begin. 

"Last night, I was dreaming about a place that I have never seen. It was hot and dry, maybe a desert. I could see and hear men in a darkened building where I remained hidden. They seemed to be asking for or praying to someone or something that I could not see from where I was. There were lions walking outside in a walled courtyard, and men were throwing fresh meat in to feed them. Then I seemed to be elsewhere. I don't know how I moved or why, but there was a being there who resembled me. The sound of the men praying grew louder, and then...I woke up. I have been wondering what it all means. I visited Narcissa in the cavern with the spring. She told me that I had traveled in time as well as distance, and suggested I try to connect with the place and the being by using a powder that assists these types of visions. I intend to do so. I will be leaving this evening and I will return when I am through. I am not certain when that will be. Time may be perceived differently in the realm of dream-seeking. Narcissa told me to take only your rose to guide me back here to you." Vincent finished all of this in a rush, barely stopping to breathe. He lowered his head and looked at Catherine through his hair. 

Trusting in her husband's past experience to tell him which dreams were significant, Catherine sat and tried to digest this stream of information. She was worried that he would meet with some injury, or worse, but knew he needed to follow this journey through. Maybe he would gain more understanding of exactly who he was and how he came to be. No one knew. Most speculated that there had been some genetic manipulation somewhere, but that was only conjecture at best. Not knowing his origins caused Vincent a great deal of pain, so she would support him. 

Vincent moved about the chamber, restless to begin his search. Narcissa had told him to bring only Catherine's rose, so he had nothing to pack. His usual layers would serve him well, as he could always remove a few if it were as warm as it had appeared in the dream. He spent a few moments in Catherine's arms, memorizing the feel, the scent of her before he stood, gathered his cloak about him, and said farewell. Catherine watched him go with trepidation. 

Vincent went down several levels of the tunnels, finding a chamber where he had often spent a few days. It contained a bed and a few basics, such as firewood and a lamp or two, and the omnipresent candles their community so depended upon. He put the blue powder into a cup and added some water. He lay on the bed under a quilt, reasoning that if he were only traveling in his spirit, his body needed to be kept warm. Closing his eyes, he began slow, deep breathing to relax and let the powder do its work more quickly. He drifted off... 

In only an instant, it seemed, he awoke again. He looked carefully about him. He stood in a hot desert land. There was a temple of some sort nearby. There were indeed lions walking about in the courtyard surrounding one side of the temple, and he could see the remains of their last meal on the ground. The temple itself seemed to be empty of people, so he walked inside, carefully keeping to the shadows. 

"Welcome, oh my relative! I saw you in a dream and was amazed. I thought that I knew of all of the family; it seems I am remiss. I am known as Maahes, son of Ptah and Sekhmet. I am called the Lord of the Slaughter, Lord of the Storm, Avenger of Wrong, Wielder of the Knife, Preserver of Ma'at, and Protector of Innocents. There are many other names, but these will serve. How are you called?" asked the lion-being suddenly before him. Vincent could not help staring; he had never seen anyone who looked like him before. The stranger was dressed in a linen kilt and sandals, with a pectoral piece of gold and lapis lazuli, and a headdress of elaborate design. His eyes were the same shade of blue as Vincent's. 

"I am called Vincent, which means Victorious," said Vincent." I have never seen anyone like me before. Are there many of you? What is this place? Am I here in truth or only in a vision?" After all of this had rushed out of his mouth, Vincent felt very embarrassed and looked away. 

"Your words sound strange, although I can understand you. Do you live in Nubia? I have heard there is a lion god there who is called Apedemak," asked Maahes. 

"No, I come from far away to the West--some have called it the New World. It is a city called New York, where there are many people, but none like us. I have never seen anyone else like me," replied Vincent. “Can anyone come in here and see us? I am accustomed to staying away from prying eyes." 

"No one may enter here except the priests of this, my temple. They are accustomed to seeing me and others of our kind; they will not notice you. Although you were seeking an answer to your dreams, you are here in body, although not precisely the one that you left sleeping.  You are just one more god to them; we have many gods and goddesses here in Egypt, and many have the head of an animal and the body of a man," Maahes answered. 

Vincent considered this. This being was a god? Was that where he came from? He had so many questions, but hardly knew where to begin. He decided to tell Maahes his history, as it was known. He told him of being found behind St. Vincent's Hospital, wrapped in what seemed to be rags. Then he related the story of Anna taking him to Father, and all the rest. He hung his head as he told Maahes of how he was sometimes unable to control his killing rage when defending his home or Catherine. As he said this, his hands came up, and he looked at them, dismay plain on his face. "I have never known whether I was a man or a beast, or some unholy combination of the two," he ended sadly. 

"You did not realize that you are of divine origin? Did no one tell you?" asked a shocked Maahes. "You are a son of Sekhmet and Ptah, as I am, as are all of our kind. We have a special duty to perform. Our titles, Lord of the Slaughter and Preserver of Ma'at--truth and justice, I believe you would call it--cannot be overlooked. We were created to protect and kill, if we must, to keep our loved ones safe. It is inborn in us, we cannot do otherwise. Come, Vincent, let me show you a bit of your heritage so that you may see and understand." and Maahes indicated that Vincent should follow him out into the sunlight. 

Once outside, Maahes walked toward the lion enclosure. "These are our little brothers and sisters. Tell me, have you never shared their feelings?" he asked, waiting for his newly-found relative's reply. 

Vincent looked pensive. "There have been a few times when I was walking near them, when I was aware of their feelings, the sadness of being caged, the loss of the hunt; but I didn't stay with them for very long. It was too painful. I also have much empathy for those I know well, especially my wife. We share a deep connection, a bond, which is like nothing else I have ever experienced. Even now, with the distance between us, I am able to sense her and to send her my feelings of wonder at this place." 

"Then you have discovered our most precious power! Tell me, who was your teacher?" Maahes asked, with a look of wonder and pride on his face. 

"I have a wonderful man who is my father, although he did not sire me. He taught me love: of truth and justice, gentleness, literature, poetry, and has cared for me when I was ill. He is a healer. I have had the love and teachings of a whole community of people who make up my extended family. But the one who has taught me the most is Catherine, my wife. In loving her, I have learned so much more about myself. But I have always regretted not knowing of my origin and how it might help me to better guide my life," Vincent replied, smiling slightly at the thoughts of his loved ones. “Oh! There is one who has been a teacher of things more esoteric. Her name is Narcissa, and she has spent countless hours with me since childhood, trying to show me how to open my awareness of things not entirely of the physical world.” 

Maahes pondered this reply for a few moments. "It seems that you have learned much without help from one of us. Tell me, do these people revere you as their protector and guardian? Do your enemies fear your wrath? Does your wife receive proper homage as your consort?" 

Vincent looked back at him, incredulous. "I have always done my best to help protect my family and my wife, sometimes regrettably having to kill to do so. But I do not wish or expect any reverence or homage. We do not have gods such as you in our experience; I am simply a member of our community. It is a hidden place, where I am safe as are the others who dwell there. The others protect me as I defend them from harm." 

"But Vincent, do you not see? That is why we exist; we are guardians and protectors of the weak, the innocent, and of truth and justice, what we call Ma'at. Come, let us leave this place and go to my home. There is still much to learn for both of us. I would hear more of this place you are from and how it has been a refuge for you, although I admit it is strange to think of one of us needing to hide away from the world of men." He turned and led the way across the wide avenue that was lined with sphinxes on both sides. Unlike the similar road that Vincent had seen in books, these sphinxes had the head and aspects of a lion, more like the Great Sphinx in Giza. How he wished that Catherine could see this! 

They came to a large two-story building made of white limestone with marble trim. There was a large deep blue faience vase at each side of the entrance. As Maahes approached with Vincent, a beautiful woman came to greet them. She wore her hair shorn, her head covered by an elaborate wig done in what Vincent would have called a "Cleopatra" style; although he thought, from what he had been told, that the queen of that name was yet to be born. She had bright blue makeup on her eyelids and black eyeliner on her upper and lower lids. Now that Vincent thought, he noticed that Maahes had the same eyeliner lines, and he remembered that the Egyptians of both sexes had worn makeup as an adornment. Her eyes were alert and bright, and of a very dark brown.  She was dressed in pleated white linen with a bright sash, and sandals, and wore earrings and a necklace of gold trimmed in malachite. She was also very human. She smiled at Maahes, saying, "My husband, I have missed you. Please come and have some water. Who is this? I do not think I have met him before." 

"I have missed you as well, my wife. This is my wife, Masika, she who was born at night. No, you have not met Vincent, because he is but newly arrived in our land and time. He is from a faraway place called New York, which is a great city in the Western climes, across the great wide sea," Maahes answered." He will be our guest for as long as he is able to stay. Vincent, may I offer you water?" he asked, in the desert-dwellers' custom. 

Vincent nodded his head and accepted the cool water with ceremony, knowing it was important. It seemed that, even this long ago, it had become the traditional welcome in a place that was arid. Offering a guest precious water was more than a courtesy; it also conveyed the message that the host had no hostile intent. The guest was supposed to accept what the host offered, signifying his own benign status. Father would be interested to know this custom was so ancient, Vincent mused. While he was relaxing in the cooler air inside the house, he was a little surprised to see a servant, clad only in a plain linen kilt, kneel before him with a basin and towels, and proceeded to bathe Vincent's feet. It came to him then that this was also an ancient custom in the Middle East, providing much-needed comfort if the guest had been walking far, and also showing the gracious manner of the master of the house. 

He waited until they were alone again, and asked, "Tell me, how did our people come to be here? I am so full of questions that I never thought to have answered that I hardly know where to begin." 

"I will try to tell you the story of our people. A long time ago, when the sun first rose on the earth, it was a sign that the dry land had emerged from the chaos of the ocean. Each day, Ra rises and renews that act. Each evening, Ra moves from his day bark, or boat as you would say, into the night bark. He must travel through the Duat, the underworld. He travels with other gods and must fight with Apep, a serpent. I, Maahes, am one who may accompany him on this journey. Ra also meets Osiris each night, he who was resurrected by his wife, Isis. This ensures the rising of the sun for another day, and the victory of order, Ma'at, over chaos.” he explained. “Ptah, our father, conceived this world by thought and by the Word. He is the patron of sculpture and construction, among other things. Our mother, Sekhmet, was created from an eye of fire by Ra. She is known as the one before whom Evil trembles, and Lady of Slaughter. These were the beginnings of our kind.” Maahes paused to let Vincent digest this. “This city, Taremu, was built to honor all of us. The priests bring fresh meat to our statues and to our little brothers and sisters; and they honor us and make their petition for continued Ma'at and protection from our enemies.” 

Vincent nodded, still taking all of Maahes' words into his heart and mind. “How is Ma'at maintained? Is it something each person does, or only our people?” he wondered. 

“Each person should keep Ma'at in his heart and mind. He should be mindful of his actions and words. When he comes to the end of his life, his soul must go before Anubis and Osiris, and make the forty-two declarations of purity. They are for example: ' I have not committed sin. I have not committed robbery with violence. I have not snatched away the bread of a child.' When he has said these things, his heart is weighed on a scale. On the opposite side of the balance is the feather of Ma'at; an ostrich feather. If his heart is free from sin, it will be lighter than the feather, and he may pass on to the afterlife. If his heart is heavy with sin and lies, it will be heavier than the feather, and Ammit, the Devourer, will consume it. So, Ma'at is our most important principle,” Maahes replied. 

Vincent reflected on all of this. He thought of all of the times that he had defended those he loved--his tunnel family, especially the children, and Catherine, above all. He found it very comforting to realize that his dreaded hands with their sharp, deadly claws could have had their beginnings long ago. He had been created to protect those he loved, and to preserve justice; something about which Catherine also felt strongly. Had they indeed been predestined to meet, as Catherine had insisted many times? He had to ask. 

“How do we choose our mates? I have always feared that I may injure Catherine unintentionally, with my greater strength--especially when I am enraged or in the heat of passion. It has been a source of much worry, although Catherine does not fear me. She says it is impossible for me to hurt her, as we are two halves of the same soul.” 

“Then your Catherine is a worthy consort!” Maahes answered, smiling. “We believe that our mates are predestined, and that we incarnate together again and again for all time. Tell me, you said you have a bond, and are able to sense emotions within each other?” 

“Yes. It is most comforting...and most disconcerting at times. I monitor her feelings almost unconsciously, as she does mine,” Vincent said softly, with his head down, looking up through his hair at Maahes and Masika. 

“You must believe me that none of our kind has ever harmed his mate or his children,” Maahes said, smiling. “There is no reason to worry further about the matter. The bond you and your mate share is a connection forever.” 

Vincent's heart leaped in his chest at the mention of children. “Then, we are able to produce children?

We were never sure...will they look like me? Does the pregnancy or delivery endanger the mother?” 

“Yes, Vincent, we are able to have children. Some may look like us, but most may be more like the human. It is not known exactly why this is so. But, both males and females may resemble us; after all, Sekhmet, our mother, was a lioness! Both sexes may also resemble their human parent. In this way, our familial line does not disappear. The pregnancy may be shortened somewhat from a mundane human one, but the labor and delivery process are presided over and protected by the goddess Bes, and are no more dangerous than any other birth. We believe it an honor from our mother Sekhmet when one of our children is as we are. Would you like to meet some of our children?” Maahes asked Vincent. 

“Yes, but may I first ask something else?” said Vincent, his brow furrowed. “Then, we are not considered human? How then are we able to...breed with humans? Is this not wrong? I have been conditioned to think of myself as a thing outside normal experience. I am concerned...” 

“Ah, Vincent, we are MORE than human. We are descended from the creator gods themselves! Although we are gods in our own right, we are compatible with humans. Since our mother and father gods made the first of us, we have always taken human consorts. In fact, we must; two of us cannot reproduce. Thus, it ensures the communication between gods and humans. Please be reassured. Now, come with us.” Maahes stood, indicating the way out of the room which led to a spacious corridor with frequent openings to let the faint breeze through.
 
Behind the house there was a courtyard filled with plants: date palms and sycamores on the edges, what Vincent could only guess were herbs and other medicinal plants in beds, poppies and roses. A pond was placed in the center of the greenery, with colorful fish and with blue and white lotus blossoms floating on the surface. A weeping willow trailed its fronds over the edge of the pool. Vincent could hardly take in the contrast of this cool, inviting garden with that of the harsh desert climate around them. Surely this must be a place of much peace! His thoughts were swirling as he tried to remember everything to relate to Catherine after his journey was over. After they passed along the garden for what seemed like an impressive distance for a single home, Maahes stopped and extended his hand to the left. 

“Vincent, these are our children, at least, those who are still living here with us. We have two others, a son and a daughter, who have their own households.” Maahes indicated two boys who appeared to be about nine years old. “These are our twins: Ahmose, child of the moon; and Badru, born during the full moon. They have finished their lessons for the day and are getting ready to go to the stables, one of their favorite places.” The boys looked up at Vincent, noting his strange clothes. Ahmose resembled Maahes, but Badru resembled his mother. Both had bright blue eyes. 

Then, Maahes led Vincent to another room, filled with three little girls, ranging in age from about two to seven. They all wore their hair in braids with bangs, and had varying shades of eyes. Two of them had the deep, almost ebony, eyes of their mother, but the third had the bright blue eyes that greeted Vincent each time he glanced into a mirror. “These are our youngest daughters: this is Amisi, flower, who is seven; Jendayi, meaning thankful, who is four; and lastly, Merit, beloved, aged two years. Our older children are our daughter, Banafrit, beautiful soul, and our oldest son, Azizi, precious. We will send word to them if you can stay for our evening meal...?” 

“I am afraid that I must go back. My wife and family must be worried. One thing I must know, if you have the knowledge. How was I born into my time, so far from you in time as well as place? ” Vincent asked reluctantly. 

“Long ago, my sister, Shamisé, the first-born, was pursued by bandits from another realm to our south. She fled into the dunes, hoping to outrun them. She was pregnant at the time. She was gone for a long time; and when she returned, she was no longer pregnant but the child had disappeared. She would not talk about it at first. Eventually, she told us that she must have traveled to another time, where she labored and delivered. Just after her delivery, there were people chasing her. She left the infant wrapped in strips of cloth which she had made from her desert robe, and left him behind what appeared to be some large building, perhaps one for healing. Thinking she would be back soon, she led her pursuers away from the infant. She escaped, but when she returned, her baby was gone. She searched and searched, but could not find him. Eventually, brokenhearted, she returned to us. She had been injured and died from her wounds several weeks after her return. Her mate shortly followed after her, as our kind so often do; we cannot easily survive the loss.” 

Vincent was stunned. So he was meant to be born here and now, instead of the time he knew. That explained so much. He was saddened to know that both his parents were dead, but strangely comforted to know they were together, perhaps in another life. He faced Maahes with tears brimming in his eyes. “Thank you so very much.  At last I know that I was not an experiment of some misguided scientist. I was meant to be, and my parents loved me even before I was born. That brings me much peace.” 

“You were very much loved and anticipated by all of our family. Perhaps when you return, you can meet more of them. You must bring your Catherine and return to us another time. Now that you know the way here, it will be easy for you to do so. Let me have your thoughts for a moment,” Maahes said, holding his hands toward Vincent. 

“I'm afraid I don't know precisely what you mean,” Vincent replied, but he felt that he could trust this man. He bent his head so that Maahes could place his hands on either side of Vincent's face. He felt only a warmth where Maahes' hands touched him, then all at once he just...knew how to make the trip again, without resorting to Narcissa's potion. It was a simple matter now. He smiled and thanked his hosts for their kindness. 

Maahes and Masika showed him to a room where he could sit and relax with his thoughts. He ran through a simple relaxation exercise, breathing in and then out deeply. Then, he thought of the chamber that he had been lying in when he began this amazing journey--and he awoke there in another instant. He sat up, looked around, and smiled. 

What a story he would have to tell Catherine and Father! Hurriedly, he straightened the bed and started for the home chambers, smiling as he thought of his new-found family and their incredible surroundings. He would indeed love to travel there with Catherine. And to think, children--he couldn't wait to tell her about that revelation. Grinning now, he turned the last corner into the Hub.

 

This story was written solely for the enjoyment of the fans of Beauty and the Beast. No copyright infringement was intended and no profit has been made.

RR