Hatshepsut crunched onto the sand flooring the arena with her sandals. Trumpets blared and the spectators roared all around her from their terraced seating. The summer day's warmth may have glazed her dark brown skin with perspiration, but her flesh underneath chilled like a desert night. Her own Egyptian people mingled with Britons and Macedonians in the mottled audience, and they chanted her name the loudest. As their Pharaoh, a goddess as well as ruler, Hatshepsut could not fail them. Her dynasty’s future, and thus the future of all Egypt, lay at stake today.
She tightened her damp hands’ grip on her spear.
To Hatshepsut’s left a podium projected over the arena from the side terraces. Atop it sat Alexander of Macedon, whose bronze breastplate and smooth, golden face glowed from the sunlight. He curved his mouth into a smile while gazing down at Hatshepsut with his amber eyes. Her heart drummed. One only needed a single glance at Alexander to see why women all over the world swooned upon his name’s mere mention. No other man that ever lived would better complement a Pharaoh like Hatshepsut.
The trumpets blared again.
Alexander turned his head away from Hatshepsut. “And now, from the emerald forests of the distant north, comes Queen Boudicca of the Britons!” His voice bounced off the arena walls despite its soft quality.
This time the Britons took their turn to cheer. They stamped their feet and brandished their fists above their head as they hooted for their Queen. Hatshepsut pressed her spear against to her body. From the opposite side of the arena Boudicca, who tilted her white and blue face up, strutted towards her.
The Queen of the Britons must have towered at least one head taller than the Pharaoh. Her arm muscles, bigger than those of most men, bulged underneath her tunic’s sleeves. Behind her Boudicca dragged a sledgehammer with both arms. Human skulls with cracked domes mounted her breastplate’s pectorals.
“Are those skulls real?” Hatshepsut asked. Although she kept her glowering expression to feign bravery, her legs still wobbled.
Boudicca showed her teeth in her smirk. “I have many more at home. Yours shall join them soon!” She stroked her left hand back over her fiery mane. “I wonder what your people’s hair feels like?”
Hatshepsut removed her crown to show the peppercorn tufts on her scalp. “Alas for you, I shaved my hair off recently. It has only begun to grow back. Anyway, at least it never reeks of lime like yours!” She wrinkled her nose and grimaced.
The Egyptian spectators’ guffaws joined the Britons’ boos into a dissonant din. Boudicca dropped her jaw for a gasp, her face’s skin flushing red.
“If I stank so badly, Alexander wouldn’t even consider me, would he?” she said. “Admit it, skinny bitch, a strong man like him needs a strong woman at his side!”
“Oh, does he? You may have much in the way of brute strength, O Boudicca of the Britons, but real men like their women graceful and
intelligent.” The Pharaoh swept an arm upward to tap onto her head with one finger. “And by the way, I’m not as skinny as I look in front. Have you ever seen me from behind?” She swished her hips sideways, bringing out snickers from the spectators.
Boudicca raised her hammer in front of her face with both hands. “Wisecrack one more time and I’ll have that juicy rump for dinner!”
“Both of you, behave!” Alexander slapped his hands together. “The game begins when I say it begins. Right now I need to go over one little rule. Namely, if any combatant wishes to surrender, she shall cast her weapon aside and shout it out. Otherwise the fight goes down to the death! Either way, I shall take the victor as my bride.”
Again the audience clamored with cheers, boos, and taunts. Boudicca waved her hammer over her head and hooted back at her supporters all around the arena.
Hatshepsut crossed her arms and snorted. “You really think you’re going to win, don’t you?”
Boudicca leaned forward until her forehead touched Hatshepsut’s and cackled behind a grin. “You know I will.” Hatshepsut loosened her brows’ furrow and stepped back, her veins icing up again.
Alexander jolted up from his seat and banged his fists together. “All right, this contest of regal combat shall begin now. Both of you lovely ladies…FIGHT!” The trumpets went off a third time.
With a roar, the Queen of the Britons swung her hammer sideward until it crashed into Hatshepsut’s cuirass. The impact knocked the Pharaoh off her feet and threw her across the arena. Once she landed, her body scraped against the sand before stopping. Although the cuirass’s dent dug into Hatshepsut’s skin, thankfully Boudicca’s first blow did not break any ribs.
The spear Hatshepsut dropped lay on the ground between her and Boudicca. The Queen of the Britons swaggered to the spear and raised her hammer overhead. “This has proven even easier than I expected!” she said with a cackle.
The Egyptian sprang off the ground, grabbed the spear by its butt, and swiped it away from Boudicca. When Boudicca sent her hammer downward, it pounded onto empty ground that vibrated.
Hatshepsut laughed back at her adversary. Boudicca growled and stormed towards the Pharaoh with hammer drawn back to her flank. When the Briton came within a yard away from her, Hatshepsut shot herself up into the air and rammed a foot into Boudicca’s jaw. She then wheeled her body backward and landed on all fours, catlike. The Egyptian people hollered out Hatshepsut’s name with clapping.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” she said. “There’s more of that coming!”
“Oh, really?” Boudicca spat blood onto the nape of Hatshepsut’s neck and hammered her cuirass’s other side in one swing. This time the Pharaoh’s body slammed into the arena’s wall and plummeted face-first onto the floor. If the cuirass’s bronze had not pierced through her flank before, surely it did now. For that matter every muscle in Hatshepsut’s body throbbed with so much pain that she could not move a limb.
Boudicca’s cackle pierced the Egyptian’s eardrums. “And so the famed Queen of the Nile falls before raw British strength! Not that I expected a puny nigger like you to put up much of a fight anyway. Alexander’s hand is mine!”
Hatshepsut did not budge, instead letting her breath fade into silence. Boudicca stretched an arm upward to brandish her hammer and roar out the Britons’ war cry. The British spectators exploded into a din of cheers and stamping feet, with some even bouncing off their seats in joy.
“Congratulations, Boudicca of the Britons,” Alexander said with a sigh. “People of Macedon, I guess I have finally found my bride. May the gods bless this marriage and bring our countries together for once.”
The Pharaoh pulled the corner of her mouth up into a smile. “No one calls me a nigger!” Hatshepsut snatched her spear, jumped back up, and chucked it into the back of Boudicca’s skull. The Queen of the Britons did not even scream as she collapsed onto her breastplate. All of the spectators gasped in gusts.
Alexander blinked several times. “Did you just feign your death in order to catch the Briton off guard?”
Hatshepsut lowered her head in shame. “Would that count as cheating?”
The King of Macedon beamed with his pearly teeth sparkling. “Far from it, it demonstrates a cunning that most women or men would envy. Truth be told I knew your intelligence would win in the end, Hatshepsut. Besides, you have a much finer rump than Boudicca.”
He tossed a twinkling gold object from his podium down into the Pharaoh’s hands. It was a ring encrusted with diamonds. Hatshepsut quivered even more than she had before, but not with fear or anxiety.
“People of Macedon, now I really have found my bride, the woman of my dreams,” Alexander said. “May the gods bless our marriage and our countries together!”
Even though the spectators’ gleeful uproar drowned out all other sound in the world, Hatshepsut felt too choked up to speak. Now she and Alexander could embrace either other and produce the heirs they needed.