<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>


Final Showdown

 

"... Are you ready,
Are you ready for this
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat...
...Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust
Hey, I'm gonna get you too
Another one bites the dust..."
'Another One Bites the Dust'
written by Freddie Mercury
Performed by Queen

 

Chapter 1

The Three Beings watched carefully as the others moved stealthily, plotting their actions with precision...and cunning. Only by working together could they hope to achieve their goal. It seemed that they had learned to work in complete harmony...most unexpected. And most worrisome.

The youngest of the three glanced at the faces of her Companions. "What if...what if they are successful?"

The oldest of the three shook her head, her dark hair moving gently against her shoulders. "We must remain positive. We must hold onto our hope."

The male nodded. "Without hope, all is lost."

The youngest wasn't convinced. "Why hasn't the Committee dealt with these troublemakers?"

First sighed. "Because they have lost their way. The path that they follow is not the path on which they should tread. But their arrogance prevents them from seeing the truth."

Third snorted, his handsome face pulling into a frown. "I believe the Seer is correct. They are cowards. They have allowed him to move about as he pleases, interfering at will for far too long. They understand that he is now more powerful than they can control. A result of their own 'non-interference'."

"Perhaps," First admitted. "Our bidding has not changed. We will observe. Only if The One is in danger that the gift of Immortality cannot protect him from are we allowed to intercede."

"And those with him?" Second asked.

First turned her head, watching as the other beings continued with their scheme. "We Observe The One."

Second bit back a gasp. "Surely we can at least protect The Guide!"

First shook her head. "We Observe The One," she repeated.

Second and Third exchanged uneasy glances. The two could only hope that their older, wiser Companion would be able to find a loophole to give them the permission to protect The Guide, as well as the Protectors...if the situation called for such interference. If he were to lose his Guide, The One would refuse to continue with his task. All of mankind could be in jeopardy if that happened!

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The Soldier

It had been a very gratifying day. He had returned to the city after a successful campaign to put down a rebellion in a nearby village. The perpetrators had been caught, and punished; executed in public as a lesson to those who would dare to rise up against the Pharaoh. While the violence was something he accepted as a part of his job, something that was expected of him, he never took pleasure in the death of his enemies. A perspective that separated him emotionally and mentally from those around him.

Weary from the trek across the desert, he stood in the cool water of the cleansing pool. Surrounded by his comrades, he washed quickly. Accepted the praise from those whom he had led in the search for the rebels. But didn't join in the jubilant celebration of the deaths of the men who had sought to free themselves and their village from the rule of the Pharaoh.

He barely had time to clean up, put on a clean, white kilt before a servant from the palace arrived - breathless from running - leaving word that he had been summoned to the Pharaoh's chambers. If his suspicions were correct, he was about to be promoted to the position of Captain of the Guard. He would be in command of the soldiers of Pharaoh's army who served in the palace, who protected the wives and children of the Pharaoh, even the Pharaoh himself. A prestigious position indeed. He had served in the army for many years, hadn't dared to dream of such an honor...

Odd...he knew that he had worked hard to reach this point in his life, but it seemed as if so many memories were...missing. Details that should have been clear in his thoughts were not, as if...as if what he believed to have happened had never actually occurred. He searched his memories. There was an...unreal...quality about the images that filled his mind. As if what he was seeing were nothing more than photographs...

Photographs?  

From where had that word come? What did it mean? 

There was no time to examine the puzzle any further; his old friend Benipe was hurrying toward him, a huge smile on his weathered face, his bald head glistening in the sun. He, too, had heard of the summons, and understood the meaning of the visit.

"Mdjai!"

"Old friend," Mdjai said, in their routine manner of greeting.

Benipe's grasp was firm when one hand closed around the dark hand of the tall man, the other clamping onto his shoulder. The older man shook him gently. "I have just heard the news! Congratulations!"

It was rare to hear such exultation from this man. He had served Pharaoh for many years as a captain in the army. Benipe had been in charge of training recruits, and honing the skills of the legions, for as long as most of those around him could remember. Longer than Mdjai had been alive. "It is only due to your training that I have excelled. One must have a great teacher to achieve such accomplishments."

The older man grinned wider, thumped the younger man's shoulder proudly. "Only a student willing to learn and work hard can take the lessons taught, and apply them successfully."

"Then you are a great teacher, and I am an equally great student," Mdjai replied teasingly.

Benipe laughed loudly. "So modest you are, Mdjai. I must not keep you. Go, accept the reward of your service to the Pharaoh."

"We will speak later, share our evening meal."

The older man nodded. "I have tasks of my own to see to. I will find you when meal time has arrived."

Mdjai nodded slightly, acknowledging the comment; patted the old soldier's shoulder affectionately, for Benipe had been like a father to him since his own father had been killed...

A flash of memory...as if...as if the thoughts were struggling to be recognized. Faces that were unfamiliar to him...yet familiar. It was the excitement of being made Captain of the Guard that caused his mind to play tricks on him, he thought, once again dismissing the discomfort the 'almost memories' had created.

He hurried toward the royal chambers. Captain of the Guard! In such a position he would answer only to Pharaoh himself! A god personified...

False god.

The words echoed in his head as loudly as if they had been shouted in his ear. For one moment, he feared that his mind was deserting him. That all he had seen, all that he had endured over the years of his life in Pharaoh's army...the horrors of war...had become too much to bear.

With grim determination he pushed the troubling thoughts aside. He would think on those matters no longer. He would serve Pharaoh as his most trusted. And he would do so to the best of his ability.

Servants and slaves jumped out of his way as he made his way through the private rooms where the Pharaoh and his family resided. The opulence was visible proof of the wealth of Pharaoh, of his power as the leader of all Egypt.

Egypt?  

Yes, this was a word he recognized. A place familiar to him. Although, there was something about it...

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

When Mdjai entered the chambers of the Pharaoh, the ruler of the land was standing with his back to the door, leaning against the low wall of the patio, which offered a breathtaking view of the carefully groomed gardens that surrounded the palace. Only a man completely secure in his surroundings, someone certain of his safety, could assume such a position. Standing at attention, he waited until the Pharaoh deigned to acknowledge his presence.

He was not certain how long he waited. Nor did it matter. He served the Pharaoh at his whim and mercy; to even allow impatience to fill his mind would be a waste of time and energy. At last Pharaoh turned to face him.

The Pharaoh was a handsome man. Well muscled shoulders were bare, his arms spoke of the strength they held. His legs were thick, his entire appearance was god-like. His black eyes were penetrating...Mdjai had seen them flash with anger. Soften with love when he was with his family. Just as...another face flashed briefly in his memory, a man with dark skin, although lighter than that of the Pharaoh's, or his own skin, a man much leaner, younger...the image disappeared too quickly for him to see any features clearly. Yet again he was forced to push aside the troubling thoughts. The Pharaoh was an arrogant man, as well...but he was a god, after all. No, no...personification of a god...

False god.

It took concerted effort to keep his features arranged in a neutral expression, to not allow his tumultuous emotions to show on face.

"Mdjai. Faithful warrior. Experienced soldier. You have done well, and pleased me greatly."

He bowed his head, the praise heady coming from the very lips of the Pharaoh. "It is my honor to serve." The words echoed in the room. Had a vaguely familiar ring to them. And another odd thought, another 'almost memory', attempted to move forward in his addled brain.

"Yes," Pharaoh murmured. "It is. I have watched you, Mdjai. You are strong; relentless in battle. You have served me well as a lieutenant in my army. You shall now serve as the Captain of the Guard. You will see to my protection personally."

"I am honored, My Lord." The words again tasted familiar...and bitter.

"You may choose the color of the of your kilt, and the fringe that will adorn it," the Pharaoh said generously. It didn't matter the color...the Captain of the Guard always wore a colored kilt, rather than plain white. It bespoke of his position. Made it easy for the Pharaoh...and anyone else...to see exactly where that man might be standing in a room full of people.

"Blue," Mdjai blurted out, not knowing where the word had come from. More mages that he was certain he should recognize flickered behind his eyes. "With gold fringe."

Pharaoh studied him for a moment. "These colors have special meaning to you?"

He felt a moment of panic. Obviously there must be something about the color, the dark rich blue that danced in his memory; images flashed in front of his eyes, but refused to remain still long enough for him to examine them, or discover their source. The gold...he could see a man with bars of gold on his shoulders...a man as bald as himself, although naturally so...a man of whom he knew nothing; yet a fierce sense of loyalty filled his heart for a fleeting moment. "Yes, My Lord."

A frown marred the handsome face as the Pharaoh studied the tall warrior. Then faded into an indulgent smile. "I can see no harm in allowing you to wear these colors. So be it. I will send word to the tailor that your kilt is to be blue...any particular shade?"

Mdjai could sense that the Pharaoh was teasing him. "Dark blue," he replied, again speaking without intending to voice his thoughts. Most disconcerting, this sudden inability to control his tongue!

The smile widened. "Dark blue," he echoed. "Very well. You will report to me in the morning, as the Sun begins its daily journey. Wearing your kilt of dark blue linen, with gold fringes."

"Yes, My Lord."

Pharaoh turned his back to the door once again. Recognizing the movement as one of dismissal, Mdjai bowed his way out of the room.

The wide, marble-floored hallway was empty as he stepped out of the private chambers. There was a large pillar nearby, decorated with stories of the Pharaoh's life. He put one hand against it, rested his forehead against his knuckles. Was he going mad?

If he was to appear before the Pharaoh as the sun began its journey, wearing the kilt that signified his position as Captain of the Guard, it was necessary that he speak with the tailor immediately. With a sigh of frustration at the emotions and thoughts that continued to swirl, despite his best efforts to control them, Mdjai hurried through the wide corridor, out into the burning sunlight. The tailor worked in a small building near the fort where the Pharaoh's army waited his orders. It was toward this place that Mdjai's long strides took him.

 

 

 

Walking through the military compound, there was a sense of familiarity, as if he had witnessed the very same thing before. He shook his head mentally. Of course he had, he had just been here! The sounds of men grunting with exertion as they practiced, the clang of steel against steel as metal of the short bladed swords crashed together in mock combat filled the air. For one moment Mdjai was certain that the sound was...wrong. It should be the dull thud of wood against wood, as those who battled used training weapons...

Fear settled into his heart. He was going mad. And when it was discovered that his mind had deserted him, he would be put to death. An attempt to escape would be futile, for the Pharaoh would find him, no matter where he ran, where he chose to hide. For the Pharaoh was a god.

False god.

He ground his teeth, clenched his hands tightly into fists. No! He would not give in to the madness that plagued him.

"I am Mdjai, Captain of the Guard in Pharaoh's army," he gasped quietly. "I am Mdjai!"

Why did that name ring so empty...as if he'd never heard it before? Why did he feel as if he were completely out of place? With determination in every step, refusing to listen to the whispers of his mind, he marched into the tailor's house. Bolts of linen and silk in bright and dark colors lined the shelves that flanked all four walls of the room, broken only by the door that opened to the outside, and door that led deeper into the building. Both doors were wide, and allowed ample sunlight to filter in.

A small man hurried forward. News traveled fast on a military installation. Even more quickly when one had friends to let one know when services would be needed, and requested. So he knew at a glance who stood inside his humble shop. This soldier had just been chosen by the Pharaoh. Whatever the soldier wanted, it would be granted, would be the only work done until it was finished. After all, keeping the Captain of the Guard happy meant that he and his family would continue to live in relative peace.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The sun was sending the first fingers of light over the horizon. After spending a restless night on a narrow cot in the barracks, Mdjai once again walked through the palace. A dark blue length of linen was wrapped around his hips, the gold fringes on the bottom tickling his knees. The leather belt that held the material in place also held the scabbard where the sheath for his sword hung at his side, weighted down by the weapon that it protected. He assigned the guards for the day, gave them their orders, decided upon the duty stations. The task felt surprisingly familiar.

By the time the sun was peeking over the edge of the desert, he was strolling through the corridor toward the Pharaoh's chambers. He entered the chambers reverently, not certain whether his god...

False god.

...would still be sleeping. He sighed mentally. Having given up trying to figure out just exactly where the...thought...had come from, he had chosen to ignore it. No matter how often it intruded.

The sounds that came from behind the sheer curtains which surrounded the bed were enough to alert him to the fact that the Pharaoh was awake, and not alone. Before he could quietly take his leave, to give privacy to the couple, a low groan filled the air.

As soon as the man had rolled to his back, the woman gathered her robe around her, and slipped between the curtains. She stopped, eyes wide, at the sight of the huge guard beside the door. Her gaze fell to the floor, and without a word she slipped past Mdjai, and into the hall, returning he assumed, to the harem from which she had been called.

There was something about the woman - the curve of her cheek, her thick, long dark hair, the dark eyes; something so...familiar. She had been taken...she belonged to another man, was the wife of one known as...

If he had ever known the name, it was gone now. He remembered taking the woman. Her screams and cries of fear, and then her anger. The strength with which she had fought. The way she had refused to be intimidated. She had been chosen. To be...

Again the memory seemed to disappear. He shook his head mentally. Every man and woman in the kingdom belonged to Pharaoh. He could pick and choose, take as he wanted. He was a god.

False god.

"Mdjai! Right on time, I see. Come. Walk with me to the bath."

Startled from his thoughts, Mdjai gave a solemn nod of his head. Waited until the Pharaoh had climbed from the bed before moving into the room, remaining one full step behind his master.

"The celebration of Isis is to begin the day after tomorrow. As the Pharaoh, I will make my way from the palace to the temple of Isis, and offer the first sacrifice."

"Yes, My Lord," Mdjai murmured quietly.

"It will fall upon you and your guards to make certain that the proper respect is shown by the laborers."

Proper respect? When the Pharaoh moved among the people, carried in his gold and jewel encrusted litter, the people always gathered to watch him pass, calling out good wishes, cheering to have their god-personified so near.

"The laborers are to prostrate themselves on the ground, their eyes mustn't rise. I am a god, and to behold my great beauty and strength is not for the likes of them."

"Yes, My Lord." It would be necessary to have criers go throughout the city, to decree what the Pharaoh demanded of the people. It would be interesting to see how those 'laborers' reacted to the news of this expected behavior.

The bath was a large room, the deep pool that filled the center tiled in blues and greens that mimicked the colors of the Nile. A dozen slaves moved around the perimeter of the room, making certain that the soft, absorbent cotton towels were ready, the aromatic oils nearby. Two slave girls waited patiently in the water, their sole purpose in life to bath the Pharaoh each morning.

Mdjai took up a position beside the only door, knowing that two guards were just beyond the low adobe wall of the terrace that looked out on the same garden as the Pharaoh's chambers.

The sun was low on the horizon now. Already its warmth could be felt. By midday it would be too hot to be comfortable, although the slaves who toiled in the distance, dragging huge blocks of stone up ramps made of sand, would continue to work, driven by the whips and shouts of their taskmasters. Building a lasting memorial to their god.

False god.

Of course he's a false god! Mdjai thought angrily. Pharaoh was a man just like any other. The only difference was the circumstance of his birth...

The thought echoed loudly in his head. Then faded away. Having acknowledged...accepted what was a fact, the soldier hoped that the irritating ruminations that had filled his head would cease to distract him.

The only sounds that filled the air around him were those of the water being disturbed as the Pharaoh was bathed, the quiet breathing of the slaves as they performed their assigned tasks. He watched only peripherally as the man was washed and rinsed. Longed to be in the barracks with his friends...his comrades. The excitement of being the Captain of the Guard was quickly overshadowed by the reality of the task. He would spend his day following the Pharaoh. And worry about each servant and slave and priest who approached, hoping that he could react in time if one of them took it into his or her head to attack the king of all the known world.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

When one of the guards reported to him as he stood guard in the throne room, he sent the young man out on the task of alerting the criers that they must spread the word regarding the day of celebration that was quickly approaching. The young corporal was unable to hide his disbelief as he listened carefully to his orders.

"Why does the Pharaoh do this?" the young man asked in a hushed whisper. "It is with such joy that the people anticipate seeing their god!"

"It is not your place to question the desires of the Pharaoh," Mdjai hissed. "You need only obey!"

"Yes, Mdjai," the young man replied, visibly chagrined.

The question was one that had been bouncing around in his own head. Never before had he known his god to order such a thing. He preferred that his subjects look at him, to see just how powerful he was. Apophis had never-

Apophis...

The name resounded in his head like thunder. Apophis was a god...he knew that.

False god.

Mdjai looked around carefully, making certain that no one else could hear his disjointed thoughts, that his face and eyes hadn't given him away. The priests were busy droning on, giving their reports, waiting for the decisions of the Pharaoh.

Something was....not right. He didn't know what was wrong. Not yet. Until he understood, he would remain silent. Speak only when necessary. Perform his duties as expected. And hope that he wasn't simply going mad.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The Fisherman

The sun was beating down on the land. Nothing unusual in that. The sun was always hot and cruel. The man shielded his eyes with one hand, looked across the expanse of the river toward the shore. Three other fishing boats were preparing to set sail. Just what he needed, he thought grumpily, competition in this over-fished section of the Nile.

Nile? As in the Nile River? Now that was just wrong. Wasn't it? He looked around again. Frowned, ran a hand through his hair, which was more silver than brown now, if the reflection in the water was accurate. There was something familiar about sitting in the small wooden boat, fishing. But everything around him felt...not right. Something was wrong, he was certain of it.

Reaching automatically for the side, and the net that was hanging over the edge of the boat, hopefully catching any fish that might be swimming by, his fingers paused. The work was both familiar and strange to him. And that had to be the oddest thing he'd ever felt.

Feeling a bit shaky, he sat back on the single wooden bench that spanned the width of the small boat at its widest part. The centrally located seat allowed him to easily reach either side, so he was able to drop his net on whichever side was the best for the moment. Something was definitely wrong. Maybe he just needed a drink. His hand automatically swept out to his side, came back empty.

He frowned. He always took beer with him when he went fishing. Put it in a...in a what? For just a moment he thought he could see the image of a box, a very colorful box, but then the image was gone. Looking down at his feet, he spied a ceramic pot of some sort. It wasn't very large, and had a lid...he picked it up, examined it carefully. It was plain, there were no markings or decorations. Nothing to be read. That would disappoint...

Again, the thought seemed to fade before he was able to totally finish it, the very essence lost in a dark void that seemed to fill his mind at the moment. That couldn't be good, not at all!

The pot held water, and he carefully took a sip. It wasn't cold, but it was wet. He took a few small swallows, then put the lid back into place, carefully returned the jug to the spot where it had been resting.

"Rami!"

He turned toward the voice that had shouted out. Saw a man waving enthusiastically at him. He hesitated for a moment, then waved back. Rami? Was that who he was? Damned annoying thing to not be certain of one's own name, he decided.

"How well do you do this day?"

He looked down at the nets. "Uh...not so good?"

The man laughed. "It is early yet. You will bring in a fine catch."

The fact that the men around the speaker began to laugh uproariously gave him a queasy feeling in his stomach. He pulled up the net. For one moment he could see his hand holding a long stick. A string was attached to it, and the string was in the water...

How ridiculous was that? He'd only be able to catch one fish at a time! Of course, catching it would be much more of a challenge than dropping a net over the side of his boat, and rowing slowly up and down the river!

Turning his back on the men who were still gathering their nets on the shore, he rowed slowly further up the river. Solitude. That's what he needed. Fishing was a solitary endeavor. At least, it always had been for him...hadn't it?

When he passed a small, ramshackle house sitting on a low bluff, he felt an instant sense of comfort. Without thinking about what he was doing, he pulled the net onto the boat, noted that there were six small fish caught in the web. He contemplated tossing them back, then thought better of it. He'd probably need them for his dinner. He took the time to clean them, and not having anything else to put them in, in order to keep them fresh, he pushed the fish into the jar that held his drinking water. Wouldn't be able to use it to drink from again, he thought briefly. That might or might not be a bad thing.

He rowed as close to the bank as he could, jumped into the water that reached his knees, and pulled the boat onto the dark, dirt shore. The jar tucked under one arm, he hurried up the well-worn path to the hut.

Inside was a bed, a cooking hearth, and a few utensils. A small table and a single stool completed the furnishings. It was as about as impoverished a place as he could imagine. But it was his. Well, he was fairly certain it was his.

Putting a hand to his forehead, checking for any signs of a fever that might explain his current mental condition, Rami settled onto the stool. No fever. But if he was in a fever induced dream...or nightmare, depending on just how he wanted to view things, he wouldn't feel as if he had a fever, would he?

He tried to remember how he had come to live in this lowly hovel. Found that nothing came to mind. Did he have a family? His eyes moved around the tiny shack. No...this was a dwelling for one person. One very poor person.

The reaction of the other fishermen taunted him. He was a laughingstock, it seemed. A joke. How had that happened? What had he done to be here, where he was...alone, poor, a fisherman of apparently little skill; a man who, it seemed, had little more than the shirt on his back. And why didn't that fact bother him more than it did? Shouldn't he be concerned about his situation?

There was a tall jug sitting on the floor beside the table. It seemed that it held water as well. Just a bit cooler than what had been in the small jar. He filled the chipped cup that sat in the middle of the table. Briefly wished for something cold, like a...

Damn it! That is just annoying!  

Thoughts...memories...that were there. But...weren't there. 

Which means, he sighed, I'm losing my mind. Not that it would probably matter much. He glanced around the room again. Hell, maybe that's why he was here in the first place!

His thoughts returned to the stick he had envisioned in his hands. No, not a stick. A pole. The thin bladed knife that had been tucked into the leather strap around his waist came out again. He contemplated for only a moment before rising to his feet. If his memory wasn't totally screwed up, there was a stand of reeds not far from his hut. He could find one, and then make a nice line from the goat's wool he had. He frowned again. He'd received it in return for some fish, from a farmer as poor as he was. That the Pharaoh had received not one fish, not one curl of goat's wool in tax for the trade made him smile each time he though about it. The tax had become cruel upon the people, because of the great structures that were being built. Waste of time and granite, if anyone were to ask him. Which of course, no one had.

And those details didn't matter. What mattered was that he had the wool. He would spin out a thin thread, as long as possible. And he'd make a...the thing he had seen in his mind. Determination settling onto his rugged, handsome face, he stepped back into the searing heat of the day. Already working on the puzzle of just what he'd put on the end of the line with which to catch a fish. A single fish. He would have to find some way to weight the string down, otherwise it would simply float on top of the water.

Once again an image, almost a memory, seemed to dance behind his eyes. A small stone. Tied carefully a hand's length from the end of the string. That would work well. He strode down the bank, toward a stand of reeds. Glanced over to see the other fishermen watching him, pointing at him, talking behind their hands. They'd probably believe he'd lost his mind if they knew what he was doing. And it would make catching enough fish to sell to the...

Another flash...another 'almost a memory'. This one of a small stand. A wizened old man who was willing to buy the catch made by tourists who didn't want to be bothered with the fish they brought back from their expensive, fun filled, champagne fishing excursions...

He stopped short. Shook his head slightly. The words echoed in his head. Where the understanding had been just a heartbeat before, was now nothing but confusion. Yep, it seemed that he was losing his mind. He gave this thought a moment's consideration. Mad or sane, he could continue to fish. To survive, he'd have to continue to use the net; he realized that, even in his maddened condition. Well, he thought, grinning broadly, no one said he couldn't put the line on one side of the boat, and the net on the other!

Moving among the tall reeds, several caught his attention as potential 'fishing poles'. Yes, that was what he would call his...invention. He carefully cut the reed poles, carried them back to his little shanty.

Two small children were standing just outside the door when he made his way back up the dirt path.

"Rami!"

That both faces lit up upon seeing him was enough to let him know that the kids knew him. Sure would be nice if he had just a tiny clue as to who they were. "Hey there."

The girl, probably eight or nine, picked up the basket that had been beside her feet. "Mother says that if you have three fish, you can have the wheat cakes and dates."

Rami grinned. "Good thing I have three fish then, isn't it?"

The children followed closely when he went inside. He pulled the lid off of the jar. Frowned, and then smiled. "If you can bring this back to me tomorrow, you can just take the whole thing for now."

The little faces peered at the contents, then lit up. "We will bring it back as soon as the sun touches the sky!" the little girl promised solemnly.

"I'll be here," Rami replied.

The little boy was studying the reeds the man had leaned against the low bed. "Wha'cha got those for?"

"Gonna make me a fishing pole," Rami told him.

"Can I watch?"

"As long as your mother doesn't object."

The boy darted out of the shanty, then stuck his head back inside. "I'll ask her now!"

He was gone before Rami could respond.

"He's such a troublesome child," the little girl sighed. Probably echoing something she had heard a grownup saying, Rami thought.

"He's curious. Nothing wrong with that."

"Curious doesn't get the fields plowed nor the garden weeded."

Another 'grownup' opinion. Didn't kids here get a chance to just be kids? And just where the hell was 'here', anyway? Knowing that the child standing beside him wouldn't have the answers he needed, and certainly not having any wish to give her a reason to tell these grumpy grownups that ol' Rami had lost his freaking marbles, another odd thought that he decided to simply ignore, he carefully emptied the basket. "Will you be able to carry that?"

"It will be easy if I put the jar in the basket," was the reply.

"I suppose it would be at that." He carefully sat the heavy jar into the small basket. "Carry it with both arms, keep one hand on the bottom so that it doesn't rip out."

With a nod of understanding, the little girl gathered her load, gave a wide smile, then hurried out the door.

He sat down on the bed. Reached for one of the cakes. Took a bite. Not bad. Not bad at all. Munching happily, he contemplated the 'poles'. Now, just what would he put on the end that would catch a fish?

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The Inventor

She slipped through the house, avoiding the three women who worked laboriously on various tasks...making bread, sweeping floors, one of the women was embroidering a design on a length of cream-colored linen. None of which interested her. In fact, the thought of being caught, and forced to help with such mundane chores, sent a shudder up her spine.

Her father's oft spoken words echoed in her head..."You should have been born a boy, Sm'n'khet."

The smile that tugged at her lips also lit her sapphire blue eyes. She rather enjoyed being a girl...a woman, she told herself firmly. She was a grown woman. In charge of her own life...

She paused near the door as that thought bounced around in her head. Okay, if that was true, why was she sneaking around in her own home? Why was it necessary in order to avoid being detained doing tasks she despised, rather than indulging in her love of creating things...mechanical things. Which were...

Now that was just...odd. The thought, the thoughts that had occupied her mind seemed to have vanished as quickly as the stars when the sun rose on the horizon. Words that had seemed familiar just seconds ago she was now unable to even find in her memory.

With a shake of her head, she slipped into the bright sunlight. The house was modest, and near the bank of the great river. Her father was a military man, in the army of the Pharaoh. He was, at the moment, on a campaign in the lands of the Nubians. Her uncle, however, was a blacksmith. His hammer and anvil created the copper pots that were used in the palace. A few were sold in the market place.

It was her uncle's indulgence that allowed her to follow her heart...and her mind...as she tried to improve on several of the every day conveniences that made life for the common people just a bit more...tolerable. At least, she thought, stopping once again, she was fairly sure that's what she did. She looked at her hands. She was accustomed to using tools. She felt that, was certain of that.

With a silent sigh, she slipped away from the house. Followed a well worn path.

Stopping to watch a man at a nearby water lift, she felt the niggling sensation that always accompanied one of her ideas. The water lift consisted of a small platform, where the man was standing; a long pole to which a bucket held fast by a rope was fastened on one end, the other end tied to another short pole that had been driven into the hard ground. Behind the platform was a trough, made of narrow wooden planks that had been fastened together to form a 'V'. The trough was ten feet long, and emptied into another trough that carried the water to the nearby field of barley. The man lifted the bucket, using the long pole, swung the bucket toward the trough and emptied it. Then the bucket was dropped back into the river. Again and again and again...

So much more water could brought up if there was more than one bucket, she thought idly. What if the bucket...buckets...were attached to something that would lower and raise them in order, and dumped the contents into the trough in one continuous movement?

Water wheel.

She frowned. Where in the world had that thought come from? Running her hand through her short hair...

Short hair? She glanced around her. Why was her hair short? The women in the house had long dark hair, which they had worn in a single braid down their back. The face of a woman...long blonde hair braided in the same manner flashed through her mind. Who was she? The image was gone before she could focus on the face, or the identity of the woman.

Heart pounding against her ribs, she found a shaded place near one of the sheds to hide. Her breath was coming in gasps, panic wrapped around her heart and squeezed. What was going on? Why did she feel so out of place?

"Sammy! There you are!"

She started, turned toward the sound of the voice. The man was muscular. Which was easy enough to see because he was only wearing a loincloth. It had been white at one time, but was now grimy with sweat and dust and ash and soot. Sammy? Sammy...that was her...she knew that. The name felt...right. And he was...Irving. Uncle Irving...no, Iteti. "Uncle Iteti, you startled me!"

"Well now, I didn't mean to do that. Trying to escape your chores again?"

Her smile was conspiratorial. "Trying."

"A new shipment of copper arrived today. I'm heading to the depot to pick up my allotment. Care to join me?"

With an eager nod, Sammy fell into step beside her uncle. The thought that he didn't look quite...right...flashed through her mind, but the thought was gone too quickly for her to focus on it. "I had an idea."

"Another one?"

"A good one."

"You said that the last time. I'm still finding shards of that pot wedged into the walls of the stall."

She frowned slightly. Had no idea to what he was referring. She opened her mouth, about to ask him what he was talking about. Thought better of it. A warning...self preservation taking control for the briefest of moments. "I want to build a water wheel."

"A what?"

"A water wheel. Take two wheels, and connect them at the axle. Between them, hang buckets that can swivel...I think just drilling holes near the top, and running a small rod through the two holes, and..."

Iteti had stopped walking. "Sammy, what have I told you?"

"Dream it, draw it, do it," she intoned. The advice had been contrary to the wishes of her father. But as Iteti pointed out, her father was away far too much to know his own daughter.

"Put it on papyrus, Sammy. Then show me. You know I can't visualize things the way you can."

She nodded. "If I can find papyrus," she muttered. And why did that sound so odd?

"I'll see what I can do," her uncle smiled.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The Scribe

He'd always loved being here, in the library. So much to read, so much to learn...to know. His mother had always told him that his curiosity was a gift, and that gift was what led to his position as a scribe in the Great Library.

His mother. How he missed her... The memory of breakfast flashed through his mind; his mother, at least, he thought the woman with the long dark hair had been his mother, smiling indulgently as he ate his fill of honey-wheat cakes. His father, much older than he actually remembered his father being, urging him to hurry so as not to be late.

That wasn't right...was it? Something felt...wrong. Must be indigestion. He knew better than to eat so much. But the cakes had tasted so good. Hot and warm and drenched with maple syrup...no, that wasn't right either. He had put honey on them, he remembered that...

He didn't have time to worry about his digestion and the odd thoughts it was causing. He needed to finish the scroll. Hunched over the table, he continued to work, dipping the sharpened quill carefully, taking care not to splatter the ink; making certain that no wayward drops spoiled the papyrus.

"Ah, Suten Anu, working diligently I see."

He frowned. It was a blessing that he had been dipping his quill when the voice startled him from his work. Suten Anu? Royal scribe. That's what the words meant. What kind of a name was that? Of course he was a royal scribe, he was working here in the Great Library, wasn't he? Perhaps his name had been the hope of his parents?

"You have been chosen for a great honor, Suten."

"I have?" he asked, blinking several times in an attempt to make the face above him more familiar.

"You have," the old man replied. "You shall attend the festivities at the temple of Isis as a witness. You will be witness to the sacrifice made by Pharaoh. Then you will return here, and write down all that you saw, all that you heard."

"I will?"

"Yes, you will," the old man snapped. "This is a great honor, Suten Anu. It is my friendship with your father that prevents me from passing over you for this task. Do not fail me...or him!"

"I-"

The old man had whipped around and was moving away as quickly as his skinny legs would carry him, the kilt he wore billowing out behind him, giving any observer a peek at his equally skinny ass.

Suten frowned. Shouldn't he be more excited about this? Obviously to be chosen as a witness - and if he was understanding correctly, he'd have an unobstructed view of all that happened within the temple during the ceremony - was a great honor. He searched his heart. Nope. He was curious about what he would see. But excited? Not even a little bit.

His mind, however, continued to poke at him. Little things. Like the fact that he had absolutely no idea who that old man was. It was a safe bet that he was one of the librarians in charge. No doubt he worked for the old man. But no name would come forth, no bits of information to give a clue as to who that old bastard was.

When he continued to stare at the doorway that the old man had disappeared through, a throat was cleared loudly behind him. The man was large, his carefully shaved head and artfully applied eyeliner bespoke of his position as a priest. The man frowned, nodded toward the papyrus. With a sigh, Suten returned to his interrupted work. Easily lost himself copying the beautifully drawn hieroglyphs.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Shoulders aching, his back sore from sitting scrunched over for so very long, Suten sighed, laid down his quill and stretched luxuriously. A quick glance over his shoulder to see that the large priest was gone gave him the courage to stand up and stretch more. A young boy, twelve perhaps, entered the room, his arms full of scrolls.

When he saw Suten, he froze, his eyes going wide, panic filling the dark depths. He nearly lost the bundle in his arms. Tried to back away when Suten hurried forward to help him.

"Let me take these," Suten said gently.

The boy relaxed his grip, allowed the man to carry the scrolls to the table.

Suten turned and faced the boy. "You have just begun working here?"

The freshly shaven head, complete with two nicks...it looked as if they had bled profusely before scabbing, slowly moved up and down.

"Well, I'm-" He frowned. Was Suten his name? It didn't feel right. But it didn't feel wrong, either. What an utterly useless realization, he thought.

"Your are Suten Anu," the boy said, barely whispering.

"You know me?"

"It is said that you will one day be the Head Scribe. Something that Akhum would like to prevent. But you gained favor with the Pharaoh when you discovered the missing scrolls of his father," the boy replied.

Blue eyes went wide. "I did?"

The boy frowned. "Of course you did! Don't you remember? The Pharaoh himself came into this very room to speak with you!"

"He did?"

The boy backed up a step. "Is there something wrong with you?"

Having this kid alert those around him that he wasn't who they thought he was would be more trouble than he could deal with. And if he wasn't Suten Anu, who the hell was he? He forced a smile to his face. "What is your name?"

"Alu."

"Well, Alu, you should be called 'he-who-is-easy-to-tease'."

The boy smiled, then chuckled. "Was the Pharaoh as grand up close as he seems when I see him in his litter?"

Having absolutely no memory of ever having met the man, Suten was left to find a suitable answer. Decided that keeping the boy's illusion alive was in his best interest. Even though something felt fundamentally wrong about that thought. "Yes, he was. He is a god personified, isn't he?"

Alu nodded vigorously. "Akhum says you were born under blessed stars, and that is why you have the luck that you do. Itafe says that you are a diligent worker, and that the Pharaoh knows this. Only your devotion to your work would have allowed you to discover the scrolls that had been hidden."

"Oh, yes, the scrolls," Suten murmured.

"They were filled with lies about the Pharaoh's father. Hidden so that they could be secreted out and his name besmirched among his enemies," Alu said, obviously parroting what he had heard the adults around him saying.

"Yes, well, I was only doing my job," Suten replied. His frown became deeper. He had a job...an important one, too. He just couldn't seem to remember what it was. He was certain that scrolls were a part of this...forgotten...occupation. They felt too familiar, he was too comfortable with them for this to not be so. But...

He looked around the room. Whatever it was that he was accustomed to doing, it hadn't been done here. Of that much he was certain.

A man with a large hawk-like nose entered the room. His scowl sent young Alu scurrying away. "Why are you still here?"

"I just finished," Suten replied, bristling slightly. He studied the man who stood staring at him. This had to be Akhum. "Do you wish to see what I have accomplished today? I can always stay longer-"

"That will not be necessary. If you have finished for the day, leave."

Suten started to turn away. Then stopped. "I suppose you think you'll destroy what I've done, in order to make me seem incompetent?"

Akhum froze, his eyes going wide for the briefest of moments. Then narrowed slightly.

"One of the priests was here all day. He knows just exactly what I was working on, and how far I got." He wasn't positive of that fact. He knew only that one of the priests had been present, and had stopped his daydreaming.

"Do you accuse me, Suten?"

It was amazing how calm he felt. As if he were only acting a part, as if this were nothing more than...a play. Whatever the hell that was, his mind tossed back at him. There was a surreal quality to everything that was going on around him. Either he had totally lost his mind, or the gods were protecting him, perhaps Isis herself was guiding him. Whichever was the answer, he felt a smile tug at his lips. "Of course not."

A soft click had both men turning to look at the wall on the far side of the room. Hidden passage, Suten thought immediately. Although he would have been hard pressed to know where such a thought had been formed. He supposed that at some time or another he'd heard stories of hidden passages and secret chambers in the temples and in the palace of the Pharaoh.

Akhum began to back slowly toward the door. "You are either blessed by the gods, or cursed by them," he sneered.

"If I am blessed by them, being kind to me would be in your best interest. If I am cursed by them, leaving me alone would serve you well. Either way, you should probably avoid me whenever possible," Suten replied.

The man bristled, his hands curled into fists.

Suten tried not to wince visibly when the tips of his fingers began to burn. He wanted to look at his hands, to make certain he hadn't accidentally set them on fire, even though he couldn't remember even dealing with any torches during his day inside the large room. Barely resisted doing so.

Akhum turned and practically fled from the room.

Suten sagged visibly, stumbling to lean against the beautifully inscribed wall. The burning sensation was fading, but not before he noticed how red the tips of his fingers had become.

He left the room, managed to find his way out of the library by sheer luck and determination. Had no clue where to go from there. Until an older woman with jet black hair, strands of silver glinting in the sunlight, waved at him, and hurried to his side.

"You have finished early today, my son," she said, linking her arm with his.

"I have?"

"Usually I have finished in the market before you leave the sacred rooms."

"Perhaps you lingered during your shopping?" he offered.

She smiled. "You tease me."

Suten smiled. "I suppose I do."

"I'm certain your father will be home soon. I must have his meal ready."

He said nothing, just allowed the woman beside him to chatter away. It wasn't like her chattering, though. Not as amusing...as fun to listen to. Wait...her? For one second he could see a beautiful face...big green eyes, long hair that was the color of sunshine, and felt, he knew, like silk against his fingers...and then she was gone. Leaving him breathless with a sense of loss. And confused about where, or when, he'd ever seen such a woman.

He didn't recognize the house where the woman led him. Settled onto a low sofa in a room he could swear he'd never seen before. He pressed the heels of his hands to the sides of his head, at that moment too confused to realize that his head, unlike the other scribes, hadn't been shaved. Maybe he was cursed...and going insane. It would certainly explain the odd, discomfiting thoughts that had plagued him during the day...at least, during the times he hadn't been copying the scroll...

Yep, that was it. He'd been cursed. And now he was going insane.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The Seer

At first she stood absolutely still, terrified and uncertain of what she was supposed to do. Then the sound of the drums and the twang of the harp behind her offered the first clue. When the flute began to warble, she glanced down, for the first time realizing how she was dressed...sheer scarves were wrapped around her otherwise naked body. She was supposed to dance, although in that moment she had no clue what the steps were, just what dance she was to perform.

There were people sitting around the room, near the walls, reclining on low couches and piles of silk pillows.

The clearing of a throat pulled her attention in that direction. A huge man, his arms folded over his massive chest, his bald head glistening in the light flickering from torches and candles, frowned at her. Okay, this isn't good, she thought, not a little desperately.

"Dance, slave!"

She wasn't certain where the voice had come from. She did understand that if she didn't do as commanded, she wouldn't like the consequences. How she knew that, and not much else, was a mystery she had no time to contemplate. She waited for just another fraction of a second, finding the rhythmic beat of the music. Then she began to sway, moving her hips slowly and, she hoped, seductively. It felt natural to raise her arms and move them as well. A glance over her shoulder at the giant man made her sigh silently...he was no longer frowning. He wasn't smiling, but he wasn't frowning. That was a good thing...she hoped.

The tempo of the music continued to build, and her full attention was focused on keeping her body moving in harmony with that beat. She twirled twice, just for good measure. Turned and came face to face with a man she knew...one whom she remembered easily...

It took only a few seconds to put the face and name together. When she did, her heart sank. "Anderz!"

His smile was cruel. "Hello...Ishtar."

Oh, shit. This is so not good!  

It was the last conscious thought she had...


<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>





SciFi Topsites