Authors: Veronica Scott
Magic of the Nile
Copyright 2014 by Jean D. Walker
This book is a work of fiction. The names, places, characters and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover Art by Frauke of CROCO Designs
To my daughters Valerie and Elizabeth, and to Alison D, who wanted to know more about Tyema
The E-book Formatting Fairies!
Patience running thin, Tyema tried in vain to focus on the endless details her head crocodile keeper Hotepre was only too eager to share. Proper care for Sobek’s animals was her responsibility as high priestess but the god didn’t expect her to know about every chipped tooth and broken claw.
“Did you want to inspect the new clutch of eggs?” Hotepre asked as they left the pond where promising juvenile crocodiles were kept.
Glancing at the sun sinking over the Nile, she shook her head. “I’d intended to, but the ceremonies ran long today. We had so many petitioners. Can I see the eggs tomorrow?”
“Of course, my lady.” Hotepre’s frown deepened the wrinkles on his aged face as they climbed the gravel path from the ponds, winding up the cliff where the temple itself was located. “Are you going to the festival in town tonight?”
Surprised into laughter, Tyema paused for a moment. “When have you ever known me to do such a thing? And especially for a festival honoring Horus, the rival of our god Sobek?”
“You stay cooped up here as if
were in an enclosure,” he said. “Hiding yourself away isn’t good for a young woman like you.” He spat.
“Thank you, Hotepre,” she said, smiling with clenched teeth, trying to hide her annoyance. He might be one of her most important functionaries at the temple, and older than the Nile, but it still didn’t give him the latitude to lecture her about her personal life.
If I wasn’t so young to be in charge of a major temple, would people feel as free to gift me with unasked-for advice?
Dusting her hands on her skirt, Tyema paused at the rear entrance to the temple’s extensive grounds. “Don’t let me keep you from the festivities.”
Broad smile revealing more than one missing tooth, Hotepre chortled. “Indeed, my lady, not even the god could do that! I’ll see you tomorrow.” Whistling a popular tune from the taverns, he continued along the path, heading toward the staff quarters, moving out of her sight.
Happy to be alone, done with her responsibilities, Tyema sighed. Rubbing her forehead, she enjoyed the soft breeze on the cliff’s edge. Changing out of the ornate headdress, the elaborate wig, the jewelry and the elaborate ceremonial garments into a simple sheath before going to meet Hotepre had been a good idea. Now she could relax, with all the day’s tasks checked off. Stomach rumbling, Tyema knew her dinner would be set out in the privacy of her apartment, but for now she was content to stand high above the Nile, savoring the beauty of the sunset.
“Hello? Excuse me?”
Hearing a man’s voice where no one should be, startled her out of her reverie. She wasn’t afraid—no one would ever dare lay a hand on her again, not protected as she was by Sobek—but she was annoyed as she turned on her heel.
Who in the Seven Hells would dare to trespass here?
“You’re too late for the evening ceremonies,” she said, barely polite. “The temple is closed.”
“I was afraid I’d missed the time.” As if his tardiness couldn’t possibly be an issue, the newcomer’s wide smile lit his cleancut face, accented by high cheekbones and a square jaw. He was a tall, broad-shouldered warrior, wearing a crisp white kilt, with leather straps crisscrossing an impressively muscled chest. The black and gold
headcloth framing his face denoted a high-ranking officer, as did the golden-handled flail tucked into his waistband. The man covered the last yards of the path in a few steps, joining her at the cliff’s edge, taking a quick view over the silvery Nile. “Beautiful. I can see why the crocodile god wanted a temple here.” Hand on the ornate golden falcon hilt of his sword, this unusual supplicant bowed. “I’m Sahure, captain in pharaoh’s army, nephew to the nomarch of this province.”
Tyema inclined her head with a smile. She was fond of the nomarch who ruled the Ibis Province for Pharaoh. Being his relative was a point in this newcomer’s favor. She saw no need to introduce herself, not wanting to listen to any petitions at this late hour, but her curiosity was piqued. “What brings you to the temple? The nome’s capital is a day’s ride away from here.”
“I’m visiting my uncle, combining business with pleasure, inspecting fortifications for Pharaoh and admiring some of the local wonders.” His appreciative glance at her was pure flattery.
She pointed at the golden falcon badge on the shoulder of his tunic, so rarely seen in this remote province. “You’re one of Pharaoh’s Own Guard?”
He laughed. “I have that honor, yes. The Great One sent me to evaluate the Nile in this area, see if there might be potential for a port. Nowadays there’s so much river traffic, with the Hyksos menace repelled and the increase in prosperity Nat-re-Akhte has brought to the Black Lands in the last fifteen years, we could use another commerce hub.” Studying her with narrowed eyes, he said, “Why am I talking of civil engineering when you shiver in the twilight breeze? Don’t let me keep you here on the bluff while night falls.”
Rather than entering the grounds, Tyema took a different direction, walking along the path toward the main temple complex, good manners forcing him to accompany her. “Indeed, it’s chilly when the sun goes down and the wind rises,” she said, rubbing the goose bumps on her arms, most likely brought on by mention of the Hyksos rather than the weather.
But Sahure was already apologizing. “I’m sorry, perhaps I was insensitive to mention the enemy. Your village suffered a Hyksos raid during the worst of the times, didn’t it?”
She nodded. “Yes, long ago. What brings you to the temple today?”
“Other than sightseeing?” He laughed. “I wanted to meet the high priestess, tell her my plans, in case the god had any objection, any portion of the river he doesn’t want developed. And I might need her help in examining possible sites. This temple is a significant influence in the local area, I have to consider its needs in the new development.”
Tyema opened her mouth to speak. “I—”
He was intent on finishing his thought. “But as I’ve obviously missed my chance tonight, is there an inn in the town you’d recommend?”
“You’re not staying with the headman?” She was surprised. A guest of such high rank would normally take over the official’s fine house, not rent a room at one of the inns like some poor pilgrim.
“I’d rather not.” Taking her elbow as they walked up the slight incline to the gates, he leaned closer. “I’ve been told he has five hopeful daughters of marrying age.”
“Say no more.” Thinking about how desirous the headman and his wife were of marrying their daughters well made her chuckle. A nephew of the nomarch would be an enticing target. “You’d be dragged into a round of feasts and celebrations for sure. All five of them would volunteer to help you survey, then distract you from your duty by pulling each other’s hair in daily catfights over your wandering attention.” The mayor’s daughters weren’t favorites with Tyema.
“Yes and I have serious work to do while I’m here, no time to referee catfights. Pharaoh gave me a deadline and one doesn’t ignore his orders.” Sahure grinned and she wondered how anyone could speak so easily and familiarly about the ruler of all Egypt. She might be on speaking terms with the god Sobek, but Pharaoh was so far above her in the human scheme of things, she couldn’t imagine even being in his presence.
Realizing Sahure was waiting for her to say something, she rushed into the recommendation he’d requested. “Well, many of the religious pilgrims stay at the Blue Crocodile inn.” One of her married sisters ran the place, but Tyema had no qualms in putting it first. Her family did a good job, charged fair prices. “I’m told it’s quite satisfactory as to accommodations and food.”
He rubbed his jaw. “I think I saw it when I was passing through town to come here. A well kept place by the looks of it.”
They’d reached the gate to the new temple enclosure. Tyema paused in the pool of ruddy light from the torches set into the sconces on either side, reluctant to have the encounter end. It was pleasant to chat with a handsome, well spoken man. Sometimes her evenings spent reading or learning new songs were a bit too quiet, maybe even lonely. Hotepre’s effort to get her to consider attending the festival in town was the first time in a long time anyone had dared to broach the subject of her self-imposed isolation.
Settling into a peaceful old age before I’ve actually grown old.
The thought made her uneasy, bitter.
Sahure’s next words were almost as if he was reading her mind. “I noticed the town was preparing for a festival of some kind,” he said. “You don’t attend?”
“It’s in honor of Horus, not Sobek.”
An easy answer, which should deflect further questions.
Sometimes she wished her defenses weren’t so well honed, so automatic.
Putting her hand on the gate, she pushed the painted gilt panel ajar.
“Well then, I must certainly put in an appearance, since Horus is my patron god.” He peered through the open gate at the deserted temple compound. “Will you come with me?”
“What?” Pausing, Tyema stared over her shoulder at him.
“Well they’ve obviously all gone off to enjoy the festivities and left you stuck here by yourself, which doesn’t seem fair to
“ He smiled and she was taken yet again by how handsome he was. “Surely Sobek doesn’t begrudge your attendance at someone else’s festival? You did say the day’s required observances were done.”
I prefer my peace and quiet, the temple to myself.
Yet why did her thoughts sound wistful? Sometimes it was lonely to be the chosen one of the god.
Sahure held out one hand, palm up. “I’d enjoy your company.”
In a moment of wild abandon, heart thumping, Tyema touched his hand with the tip of her fingers and heard herself accepting the invitation, “Let me just run and fetch a shawl first.”
What’s come over me tonight?
Leaning against the wall, Sahure nodded. “Take your time, I’ll wait.”
Tyema hastened to her quarters, the whole time asking herself what she was doing. She rarely set foot in town, with all its sad memories, not even to visit her sisters. Never to attend festivals!
Am I so susceptible to a handsome stranger?
She giggled, thinking of her half-sister Merys and the handsome stranger
met, who of course was revealed to be the god Sobek himself. “I don’t think this Sahure is a god in disguise,” she laughed to herself as she returned to the gate, half expecting to find him gone.
But he’s a pleasing companion and tonight I’m in the mood to be wild, to do the unexpected.
“You were quick, my lady,” he said, pushing away from the wall and coming to take her hand.
“My name is Ema.” The moment she spoke, she wondered why she’d given him the nickname that only her family used. Too late to correct the error without awkward explanation..
“Unusual. Pretty.” He conducted her solicitously down the long stairway from the cliff to the plateau, hand on her elbow as they navigated the stone risers, each inscribed with a blessing to Sobek.
“Oh, what a glorious chariot,” she said as they approached the waiting vehicle, eyeing the horses with fascination. Her brother-in-law, captain of the town guard, had a team and an old but serviceable chariot. Those were about the extent locally, even now that the town received so many pilgrims and visitors. On the rare visits from the nomarch, she’d seen his chariot, but his was nothing like this. Sahure’s was a burnished war chariot, with wide axles, sturdy wooden wheels, gleaming leather side panels and an electrum front plate ornamented with Pharaoh’s cartouche, set off by gold-crowned falcons of Horus on either side. The horses wore elaborately striped blankets to cushion the wooden yoke and harness, accented with shining bits of gold-trimmed leather. Saucy white ostrich plums stood tall on their bridles.