Doug Fortier "Candace of the Kingdom of Kush, 332 B.C."
The Berkeley campus is an all-night zoo, so I’m just another tweedy professor using my card key into Krober Hall at three in the morning. I retrieve my slate, chalk, and hieroglyphics notes from my office in the Reisner collection of Egyptian artifacts, then scurry along to my talk with Candace.
There is no reason to believe she’ll appear as she first did three weeks ago, the ancient plate emanating an ethereal light I now know is from the year 332 B.C. I chanced upon it after a nearby bash where I drank too much and could only make it as far as my office couch. At this time of the morning, it caught my attention and I saw movement on the other side. After skittering away from the potential danger, I crept closer. Through the rippling lens, a woman peered at me as I hid in the shadows of the closed museum.
The plate’s perimeter formed the outside boundary of what appeared to be the view from a matching plate showing me in the darkness. The undulations within the changing edge could only be a link in time and space, a wormhole enabled by alien physics. Sometimes the river Nile takes over and gives the sense it could flow into our world.
From our first encounter where we could only stare, I’ve returned every night to talk with Candace, the name a form of Kentake (Queen) of Meroë, of the Kingdom of Kush. I brought the small slate and chalk to make hieroglyphics, and she soon drew the cup, Egyptian vulture, vertical door, and crown that symbolizes her dynasty. I have struggled to tell her about me, about our dynasty, but have only drawn mountain with rising sun for “horizon,” and hippo head for “moment.” It hasn’t worked. I would never be allowed to talk to her if the government found out, so I’m losing a little sleep and keeping her to myself.
I hope Candace will appear tonight, though she rarely misses, because I’ve been digging deeply into the movements of Alexander the Great as he pushed through the Nile river valley. From my guess of her age and the symbols she’s shown me of her parents and her first child, I think this is where she rides out on her war elephant leading her armies in a show of force, and Alexander turns north without a battle.
I don’t have to wait long before she appears with the Nile behind her, her palms up, her body painted in a new and intriguing way. This time she’s wearing feathers of red and black with gems.
She knows I’m here, and smiles before she lowers her hands to show the slate and her glyph for me, an upward pair of horns with a palm stalk in its middle, “open new year" with “time.”
In the few minutes we have, she sees I’m not smiling and sets a serious face. I take over with my slate and make three sets of ideograms, first as arms-with-shield-and-axe for “combat,” then slaughter-block with knife for “execute, slaughter,” ending with lizard for “multitudes, overmuch.”
Just as her glimmering image brightens before her face is frozen on the plate, she shows me the glyph for elephant, then puts her palms together. I know she’s understood.
Tomorrow I’ll be here waiting for Candace of the Kingdom of Kush, 332 B.C.