Authors: Dorian Tsukioka
Copyright ©2016 by Dorian Tsukioka. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Those who flagrantly disregard this copyright notice may find themselves devoured by the Egyptian demon, Ammit. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s wild imagination or used in a fictitious manner.
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Save for a few men straggling home after a long day of work, the streets of Waset are nearly empty. Torchlight spills into the streets where the heat still sizzles off sandy paths, though the sun set long ago. As the girl makes her way through the city, the sound of her sandals slapping the ground is overpowered by the yelling of men. She picks up her pace and runs toward them coming to a stop beside a walled-in vineyard next to a public house. Inside, men drink away the harshness of the day’s work and gamble away the day’s earnings as well.
A figure is thrown out of the building by two bulky men. The girl rolls her eyes at the familiar site until the the men step out into the street. She peers closer. Guards of the palace. Her irritation gives way to fear as they take turns kicking the lump lying on the ground. One of the guards shouts at the man to stand, but he’s too
inebriated to do much more than loll on the side of the street.
The girl is about to run over to to help when another man exits the building. His fine, linen kilt and the expensive necklace made of bright blue lapis lazuli stones encased in gold are enough to show he is a powerful man of Pharaoh’s empire, but the girl knows exactly who he is. She steps back into the shadows muttering a curse under her breath shocking enough to make even Set, the god of chaos and destruction, blush. The Vizier and high priest, the second-most powerful man in all of Egypt kicks sand in the face of the drunken man lying on the ground.
The Vizier steps onto a golden sedan and reclines back onto his seat. He scowls at the man lying on the ground, but does not raise his voice. Instead, with steely, quiet nonchalance he says, “Cut off one of the thief’s hands. That’ll teach him to come to a game of chance unprepared to pay.”
A guard slips a rope around one of the drunkard’s wrists and pulls it taut against the wall of the vineyard while another guard holds the man up just enough to keep him from falling back to the ground. The drunkard slurs some words together that don’t make sense, his head lolling down to his chest while a third guard unsheathes his sword and places it in a torch fire, readying it to cauterize the wound after the hand has been sliced away.
“Wait!” The girl has hesitated long enough. If she doesn’t act now, it may be too late. She gulps down her fear, steps out of the shadows and into the street. “You can’t do this.”
The high priest’s head whips around. He glares at her and spits out, “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? Do you know who I am, girl?”
She drops to her knees and bows her head in an act of reverential piety. “Yes, my lord. You are Rahotep the Merciful, great and forgiving high priest, the Vizier, Overseer of all Egypt. This man is my father, and he has told me all about your magnificent and charitable deeds of overwhelming compassion.”
White robes billow around the Vizier’s shoulders as he jumps off the sedan and stomps toward the girl, the firelight of the torches reflecting golden off his shaved head. He snatches the girl’s chin in his strong grip and squeezes hard. “I see you share the same flippant tongue as your father. His mouth bargained away more winnings than he had right to wager. He’s lucky I don’t cut out his tongue as well.” He releases her mouth, his long nails catching on her skin and drawing a thin line of blood.
“Yes, my lord,” she answers. “It certainly would be a favor to us all if you did. However, my eight younger brothers and sisters are quite fond of all of my father’s body parts and are hoping he’ll be returning home with them all intact tonight. It is after all, his hands that help make it possible for us all to eat.”
At the sound of his daughter’s voice, the drunken man lifts his head. “Aniya, is that you?” he says, trying to stand up, but falls back down. “What are you doing here? Is it dinner time already?”
The girl’s eyes stay locked on the ground. She can’t bring herself to look at him. Her father hadn’t always been this way. He was once a lead foreman in the planting fields, rising through the ranks and marked one day for civil service in the Pharaoh’s palace itself. But that was long ago. Aniya can’t recount the many times she’s escorted her father home from the tavern after her mother died, they’re too many to count. Tonight is the worst though. He has never gambled before. He must not be too talented at it.
“Your father owes a great debt to me, girl. How do you suppose he will pay it?” the Vizier asks.
Aniya thinks through the savings they do have. Her father’s wages as a farmer are always paid for in food, and there never seems to be enough as it is with ten hungry mouths to feed. What she has earned from her reed weaving has all been used to trade for clothing and other goods. They have nothing of value, certainly nothing that could interest the high priest.
“Aniya is a master weaver,” her father shouts out from his place in the dirt. “You should see the baskets and shoes she’s able to make from Nile reeds. Her hands move so skillfully, she could probably weave them right into gold!”
“Father!” she chastises. “Please excuse my father’s rash words, my lord. He’s obviously not in his right mind.”
The high priest rubs his chin and purses his lips for a moment before walking across the street to Aniya’s father. He grabs a handful of his hair, pulling the drunken man’s head back to look him in the eye. “You owe me much, farmer. You almost paid me with one of your hands tonight. I’m still considering having my guard cut it off.”
The drunken man’s eyes open wide when he finally notices his hand bound with rope and pulled tight against the stone wall. Panic flashes across his face. “My lord…” he stammers, suddenly much more sober, “I’ll find a way to pay you.”
“No need,” the high priest says. “I think perhaps we can forge a trade instead. How about we trade your debt and your bloody stump of an arm for your daughter over there? How does that sound to you?” Her father’s eyes dart to to his daughter and grow increasingly larger. “I think in time, your daughter will be able to work off your debt,” the Vizier says with a voice as smooth as silk and deadly as a viper.
“What do you want with my daughter?” her father asks, not bothering to hide the accusation in his voice.
“Relax.” The high priest releases the man’s hair and lets his head roll forward. “Nothing as lecherous as you imagine. Although your daughter is beautiful, I have no need of her in that regard. No, I have other ideas for how your daughter might make herself useful. I’m simply intrigued by her weaving skills. If what you say is even remotely true, then it will be worth my while to have her around. I can always use a master weaver, whether or not she can weave reeds into gold. Although life might be easier for her if she can.”
The high priest motions to the guard holding the rope, and the drunken man’s arm is released. Aniya rushes to help him to his feet.
“Aniya, I’m sorry. You don’t have to do this. Surely, there’s another way to pay off the debt.”
She hugs her father’s neck in a tight embrace. “I’m sure it will all end well,” she reassures him while hoping her words are true. “Pray the gods watch over me though, just in case. The high priest’s offer is a generous proposition. Your children will be very thankful tomorrow when you are able to return to work, even if I can’t be there to help for a while.”
Her father kisses her roughly against the cheek. “May Mother Isis and all the gods protect you,” he whispers in her ear. Even in his drunken state, Aniya’s father knows better than to mention the gods too loudly in the high priest’s presence, since Pharaoh has outlawed the worship of all the ancient gods in favor of a new god, Aten the One God.
Aniya clasps her arms around her father one final time before she turns away to follow the high priest and his guards. Shaking from fear and fighting back tears that threaten to overwhelm her, she resists the urge to look back at her father as she follows the Vizier’s caravan through the dark streets of Waset.