THE KINGDOM OF TA-SET
THE CITY OF QU-STUL
THE TEMPLE OF THE GODDESS
The king stood on top the ramp of the north wall, the white columns of the temple behind him. Beside him was Senemut who had taken the place of Heru, the old keeper of the gates now laid to rest in the modest tomb of his ancestors in the land south of the great river. The king’s eyes remained on the horizon, steadily watching for the sasmety, the stout bird messenger of the temple.
The bird sent on the heels of the servant Apu to the edge of the land to bring word on the deeds of the men of Eshunna was taught by the king’s own hand to ferry word across the kingdom when the king willed it.
Irsu nodded at the keeper of the gates.
“The servants rally to fight for the land. When shall the battle begin?”
The eyes of Irsu narrowed.
“There shall be no battle Senemut.”
Though his heart burned with valour and love for the land, the king’s words brought respite to the keeper of the temple’s gates. He had been a child when his father and those of his father’s house sat around the hearth in fear of battle after the death of the crone goddess and the men of Eshunna spoke boldly of their god En. He had heard the whispered wish of his mother to the goddess that the land be free from blood and her household be spared from the men of Eshunna. The goddess had answered her prayer and she in thanks she had dedicated him to the temple and the goddess. He turned his heart to the present and thought how deeply he yearned for the love of Yamtisy. He knew within him that If the king called for battle, he would be denied the pleasure of calling her wife at the time of the next moon.
“How then shall my lord route his enemies if he does not call for battle?”
Irsu turned to the young keeper of the gates only younger than him by a few moons.
“The ways of your lord are different, are they not Senemut?”
Senemut bowed before Irsu.
“Yes, they are, my lord.”
They slipped into silence as they continued their watch, Senemut thinking about the ritual of the opening of mouth done at that moment in the temple. He thought of the maiden Yamtisy and grew aflame with lust as visions of her breast spilling from her dress as she cleaned and oiled the statue of the goddess came to him. He thought of the first time he had come upon her with Ammeris, the one who kept the courtyard in the dark shadows of the temple. How he had been consumed with jealousy at the sight of them locked in embrace. It had hurt him then that Yamtisy had spurned him for the clumsy cleaner several moons older than her and had vowed never to look her way. The goddess had intervened in his favour the following morning when Yamtisy stopped him on the way to purify the sacred pool. She had in her hands, small round sweetened cakes and had encouraged him to eat.
Senemut grew hot with longing as he thought of the many nights they had stolen away from their duties and locked themselves in the grain room far behind the kitchen. He thought of how soft Yamtisy’s skin felt against his own and how sweetly she mentioned his name when he spilled his seed inside her. It seemed to Senemut that he could no more wait until the festival of harvest was done to seek her hand in marriage. There was none like Yamtisy and she would be his. Only a small matter worried him.
Senemut’s passion cooled as he thought of the many times the one he loved sought knowledge on the plans of the king and all that he did. Her preoccupation with matters related to the king was the bitter sap of the lettuce stem that turned his stomach. He wondered if perhaps Yamtisy desired the king but quickly purged the thought from his mind. The king was far above their station. It was a sacrilege to even contemplate such a matter.
As his mind came to his surroundings again, Senemut thanked the goddess that Yamtisy had ceased in her daily enquiry about the king. He began to smile to himself but stopped when he saw that the king watched him with a look of bemusement on his face.
“My lord,” he said quickly, bowing and then looking quickly to the ground.
“The messenger comes now,” the king said quietly. Senemut looked and saw the bird flutter towards them, circle once and then perch gently on the king’s outstretched arm. On the legs of the small bird was attached a small piece of papyrus which the king pulled apart and read in silence. As the king read, Senemut felt the air come alive with power.
“Thirty thousand men.”
The king said nothing more, touching the head of the bird once and releasing back it into the temple grounds. He returned to the temple afterwards, leaving Senemut as he had found him at the ramp. Senemut thought of all the men that had been put to work at the site of the Mer. Many in the kingdom were farmers not men skilled in sword fighting. The matter too heavy for him to bear, Senemut returned to the pleasing thoughts of the maiden he loved.
Nefekhare sat with the goddess in the courtyard of the temple. At their feet, the scribes squatted, their quills held ready above the dry parchments on their thighs. Their expectant eyes were turned on the goddess, who appeared to them in her regalia, her lips rubbed with the red ochre and her eyes marked with the green udju.
“It shall be called the book of the dead,” she said to them, scarcely blinking as she looked far into the distance. “And with it shall the souls of men be judged before the gods and goddesses.”
The scribes scribbled furiously as the words began to pour from her mouth. They spoke of the journey of the soul to the place of darkness, the weighing of their deeds on the scales of justice and the words that shall be charged them.
I have not impoverished my associates
I have not caused pain
I have not made hungry
I have not killed
I have not turned anyone over to a killer
The goddess would fall quiet in the midst of the chant, closing her eyes as if waiting to hear the one that spoke through her. None in the courtyard apart from Nefekhare knew that the goddess only sought to renew her waning strength. When her eyes opened, the words continued as though they had never ceased.
I have not taken milk from the child’s mouth.
I have not stopped the flow of water in its seasons.
I have not built a dam against flowing water
I have not added to the balance weights
This continued until the mid-day hour when the goddess retired to her private chamber with the help of Nefekhare. They left behind a courtyard full of awe for the wisdom of the goddess. There was no land on the face of the earth to compare to the kingdom. None could understand the magic of the ones who created the land from chaos like their goddess. Rolling up their scrolls, they dispersed to the various chambers and inner temples of the courtyard.
As they did, they talked about the rebellion on the edge of the land and the silence of the king on the matter. They had heard from Senemut, keeper of the gates that they would be no battle. They trusted in the magic of their king and dreamed together of a golden age. There would be peace in the land, festivals that continued until eternity, a king that built secret places of magic that followed the path of the great one and a goddess that lived with them forever.
THE CHAMBER OF THE GODDESS
Nefekhare kissed the goddess and left for her own chamber. The oils had been rubbed into the body of the goddess and the incense burned on the ceremonial censer in the middle of the chamber. The bitter entyw brought down from the land of Punt had become the scent of the mid day hour at the temple just as the kapet that burned in the early hour. The strong scent kept the mind of the goddess at peace and she rested in spite of the hissing of her snakes in the basket where she kept them. She knew their language and understood their restlessness now that her time had come.
The light of the day waned to a feeble glow that spilled golden red light into the chamber. The goddess reached out a hand to catch the light, her heart on the ritual that awaited her in the burial chamber of Ahmose at the midnight hour. It would be her final ritual. She had said nothing of her plot to Irsu and had firmed her magic so that he could not perceive her thoughts.
She smiled at the light. Today a son would be born to her son and the one she called daughter. She would hold the child in her arms and bequeath her magic upon him. She would witness the birth of the son of her son unlike her own mother Astarte whose death in the hands of the men of Eshunna had stolen from her the chance to hold Irsu.
Speaking a few words of magic under her breath, the goddess regained her strength and moved around gathering her possessions. She moved with an agility odd for one who had not touched food or drink for days. She commanded the ones who waited in the air and they appeared, listening without a sound to her last commandments.
The scroll of Kiya she gave to their care and commanded that the powers over her snakes be handed to Nefekhare. It was night when she straightened from her task. The warriors slipped back into their cloak of air, their hands clasped against their chest. One by one, they paid homage to the goddess and gave their word that all would be carried out as she had stated it.
LATE NIGHT HOUR
The birth pangs came on Nefekhare as she rested in the garden and watched the sky and she called for her maiden Hent to tell the temple midwife that her time had come. They led her to the birthing stool and watched as she crouched over, the birth attendants supporting her on each side. The midwife rubbed her belly, invoking the blessings of the goddess over her. Word was sent to the king and he waited outside the birthing chamber. The agony of the queen was not long and soon a son pushed from between her thighs, his healthy lungs bursting with lusty cries. The attendants washed him and the cord that had bound him to his mother. Afterwards they ground shards of the vessel hin, mixing it with oil and pouring it into her so that the flesh that nourished her son fell to the birthing stool. That too they washed, gathering it up with the boy until the appointed time when it would be thrown in the great river.
The goddess spoke her blessings over the boy. She spoke again on the flesh that nourished for the boy for in it was his second soul. The attendants cleaned the queen and the boy was carried to the king. Irsu took his son, immense pride in his eyes. This was the one who would carry his name and rule over the land after him. He put an amulet on him and called him Ankh-haf, the one who life was within. Bringing the child to his chest, he whispered the names of all those who had come before him.
“You are from the line of Menes and Aha, descended through Shu as all of noble birth. You are of Khonsu, traveller and keeper of the moon, the one to whom my father bowed to. You are of the house of Au-Set, noblewoman and keeper of the house of Ahmose. You are of the root Astarte, she who was goddess and mother of my mother. You are of Qalhata, great goddess and supreme mother of the land. You are sprung from the branch of Ahmose, great magician and ruler of men. You are of my loins and you shall rule over nations.”
IRSU’S RITUAL CHAMBER
Clean from the waters of the sacred pool, the king sat in the middle of the burning fires he had called. In his hand rested a horned ivory with the images of the goddess with which he called the goddess and the great one. The clay figures he had made stood before him, numbering up to thirty thousand. Across the clay figures were another he marked with the ink of life and called them his own. The king waited until the power in him had become too great to contain and then uttering words of magic, he invoked the help of the great one and the goddess over the figures.
The clay figures sprang to life at his words and as real men began to advance one upon the other. He watched them, urging the ones who served him to destroy the thirty thousand that were the men of Eshunna. The figures mimicked the expressions and the actions of men, and the king looked on in satisfaction as the ones who were the men of Eshunna fell under the blows of the ones that served him, their clay faces twisted with pain.
“I am unbeatable in combat. I am the force that strikes the enemy dead,” the king chanted as the figures fought. “Fall, fall, fall before me you men of Eshunna. Fall for your treachery and the wars you plot against the land. Fall that the earth may swallow you and wipe from it traces of your living.”
His face took on a fierce expression and he lifted the horned ivory in his hand.
“I close the gates of Sekhet-Aaru against you. Wander in the eternal darkness forever. Do not be reborn. Do not be reborn.”
He brought his hand down suddenly and the clay men of Eshunna fell to the ground, shattering and breaking into small pieces across the floor. The ones he had marked with the ink of life froze in their fighting positions. The king cleared the place of his ritual and commanded the fires to cease. He had fought for his father’s honour. Before the middle hour, there will be none of the land of Eshunna in the kingdom.
A figure stumbled down the processional way, past the still figures of the jackal-headed sphinxes. His hand clutched at his middle and he stopped many times, bending over as though in pain. From his position above the temple, Senemut saw the man and recognized on him the plain kilt used by the men of the temple in service of the king. He rushed to the temple’s gates, pulling them apart to admit the man. He exclaimed as the man collapsed in his arms.
Together they fell to the ground but Senemut was a man of strength and kept firm his hold on the one who had come from the palace of the king’s father. The look of death on Apu’s face caused Senemut to tremble in fear.
“What ails you? Speak!”
Spittle bubbled on Apu’s lips as he fought to speak. His words came out as a babble. Senemut drew close to the dying man.
A dry cough rattled the body of Apu and his right hand pointed the way he had come.
“Men..men,” he spluttered, eyes wide with fear. They came from the sands just as I took word to the men of Eshunna.” His eyes rolled and his hand dropped limply to his side. Senemut shook Apu with all of his strength.
“And who are these men?”
“Sand,” Apu said weakly, head moving sideways and back. “They came from the sand.”
“And the men of Eshunna?”
The uncompleted word of Apu was his last. Breathing deeply, he took his final breath. His head fell backwards and his eyes set on the sky in terror as though he relieved the battle on the edge of the land in the final moments of his life. The keeper of the gates settled him back on the ground, his hands trembling as he did.
Inside the temple, Yamtisy and another maiden had found Merka in the garden between a row of flowers and the pool. He had been laying facedown, hands stiff beside him. Yamtisy had turned him over and let out a scream that attracted the other servants. When they came to see him, they found him mottled green and choked on his own tongue. Deep in the hallway, another servant hurrying towards the commotion in the garden let out a cry of sorrow and fell to him knees when he saw the king emerge from the darkness with the body of the goddess in his arms.
It was a dark night in the temple. All who had rejoiced at the birth of the new prince Ankh-Haf gathered to mourn the goddess found dead by the king in the burial chamber of Ahmose. In the midst of their grief and uncertainty over the future, they wondered about the events of the night. They had received word from Senemut on the deaths of the men of Eshunna at the edge of the land. The ones who had lived longer in the temple swore that it was the king’s magic that wrought terror on the men of Eshunna and they savoured the taste of victory for a little while before returning to their grief. The goddess was dead. Though she had left with them the sacred book of knowledge, they knew they had come to the end of an age.
MAY 18, 2015
GRADIAS OIL AND GAS
Joseph Umana sat, head hanging dejectedly as he mulled over his plans. His entire future hung in a balance and he did not know how to save it. The thought of leaving behind everything he had worked for left a sour taste in his mouth, yet he knew there was no other way. He was caught in a nightmare. Escape was the only way out. He stopped thinking when the door opened and Omoni walked in. He recoiled instinctively as he remembered their last meeting. Dressed in a form fitting black dress, her hair gathered in a bun on top of her head, she looked like her old self except the evil he had glimpsed in her eyes during their encounters remained there. His jaw locking as he fought to still the tremors that ran through him, he met her eyes.
She ignored his greeting, walking over to stand over his desk with a dark stare.
“The whore returns yet again,” she hissed, her fingers claw-like as they rested on his desk.
“Who?” Joseph Umana asked, jumping out of his chair and walking to the other side of the office to put some distance between them.
“The whore,” Omoni spat again, strolling casually to meet Joseph to where he stood. “The one who keeps me from him.”
Suddenly it occurred to Joseph that she was talking about the insurance marketer that resumed work again at the office that morning.
“Yes. Her,” Omoni said, drawing to stop inches away from him so that her hot putrid breath fanned him.
Sidestepping her, Joseph rushed back to his already cleared table and grabbed his jacket from the metal coat rail in the corner behind his desk. He swept the car keys under the file he took next as discretely as possible.
“Give me a few minutes,” he said, throwing her a reassuring smile. “Let me talk to him about it.”
She stood where he left her, saying nothing and watching him with those eyes of hers that read nothing but darkness. Joseph steered his mind from the woman in his office to his plan. There was no time left. It was now or never.
I shift the stack of files waiting for Omoni’s attention to the side of my desk and hit the keys of my keyboard to activate the computer. Stealing a quick look at my watch, I can’t help but feel surprise at how quickly time has passed. Lunch with Irima was only thirty minutes away, and an urgent message from Harry waited in my mail.
Joseph’s head is poking through the door when I look up. I motion him forward and watch as he closes the door and walks briskly towards me.
“I want a word with you,” he says, shifting from one foot to the other, and then looking back at the door as if expecting someone to walk in that moment. I lean back in my chair.
He adds the file in his hands to the stack waiting for Omoni and runs his hands down his wrinkled shirt. It is an aberration, a deviation from his usually impeccable dressing.
“I am leaving,” he tells me, his voice sounding strained. Surprised at his announcement, I stare at him for a moment.
“Yes,” he confirms with a nod. “Taking some time off.”
“You are not resigning?”
Sighing loudly, he shakes his head.
“To be honest, I don’t know.”
A testament of his discomfort, a single track of sweat that runs down the spot between his brows, sliding towards the bridge of his nose tells me he is hiding something.
“How badly do you need this leave?”
“Badly,” he says, looking down at the floor.
I want to discuss the dangers of him going away in the middle of the business negotiation with our new foreign partners but I sense a helplessness in him that forces me to reconsider.
“Fine. Take a month off. Do whatever you have to do to get better and get back here. There’s a lot of work here.” I hit the keyboard again. “Except you have changed your mind about being partner.”
“What if I do?” he asks, hesitating at the desk.
“Well as controlling shareholder, I can’t promise that I will be fair. You haven’t ben particularly useful in the past few years.”
His shoulders slumped forward, dejection emanating from him as he looks at me.
“That’s harsh Luke.”
“I have been fair to you and have tried to overlook your destroying the London business but my patience has a limits. I have to do what’s best for the company.”
“So I am guessing you will buy my shares off at ridiculous prices.”
I shrug. “Maybe.”
Joseph’s decides a month leave is better than losing his shares and walks briskly away from my desk. At the door, he stops and gives me a meaningful look.
“And Luke, be careful.”
His words carry a suggestion of danger. I think about them for a long time and finally come to the conclusion that he is running away from something. I make a note to discuss his behaviour with Harry and return to work.
Neferet swatted with irritation at the light. The guard stood over her all day, disturbing her with his presence. It did not help that she felt her hold on her host slipping sometimes, like early that morning when she had tried to cast her out.
“Leave me be!” she snarled at the guard, looking down at the computer that held the information she was looking for.
“Her soul called me.”
Neferet as she glowered darkly at the guard.
“She called me first.”
The expression on his face beatific, the guard circled her, coming to the other side of the semi-circular desk. Neferet hissed and spat at him, shaking her hair as sparks from the light touched her.
“Shed your burden.”
Neferet found what she was looking for and cackled in joy. Her merriment ended when the door opened and the one whose desk she occupied came into the office.
“Are you looking for something?” The woman asked, an inquisitive smile on her face.
“Yes,” Neferet said, her eyes bright as she slipped from the chair. She walked away without a backward glance at the one that watched her.
I find him huddled over his desk, his face tight with a frown of concentration. Fighting disappointment, I walk to him. He offers me a tired smile when I sit down and talks about an unexpected change in his schedule. The meeting with two managers of a bank the company did business with was only a few minutes away.
“I thought it was supposed to hold tomorrow.”
He busies himself with work on his computer while I sit with my suspicions.
“Did Omoni know about our lunch?”
“Yes,” he says, picking up one of his pens in the pen holder on his desk and scribbling something on a paper. “I told her we would be out for an hour.”
He lifts his eyes to mine when I fall silent.
Leaving his chair, he checks his cuff-links and then walks round the desk to meet me. “Your question. Why are you asking?”
Memories of our fight rise in my mind and I squash the urge to voice my suspicions. I go to him when he pulls me to my feet and in to a breathless kiss. I lean against his chest, feeling the beat of his heart through his shirt. I forget the disappointment of our cancelled lunch date and swirl my tongue with his, new swells of pleasure whipping round my body. I lead him to my breasts and moan when he strokes them, his thumbs grazing my nipples. He breaks the kiss to groan.
“God, I want you.”
His voice is hoarse with desire. I pull him back to me and kiss the side of his neck.
“No one is stopping you.”
“I have a meeting,” he says, his sigh of regret filling my ears. “And except you want me walking around with an erection, we need to stop.”
The image makes me laugh and I step away from him. He takes a few minutes to regain his composure and I help him smoothen down his shirt. He leaves with the papers on the desk. I blow him a kiss on his way out but feel my heart nearly stop when he tells me Omoni was out to get us lunch. Every misgiving I have returns to me, assaulting me with full force. The woman was up to something and it was up to me to stop her.
Lillian finished washing her hand at the sink and stood checking her make up in the bathroom mirror. She found her lipstick smudged and pulled a piece of paper towel from the silver holder to fix it. Satisfied with the result moments later, she crumpled the paper and sauntered to the plastic bin beside the door to discard it. She returned again to the mirror and was checking herself for the last time when the door opened. Her face lighting with pleasure, she greeted Irima, wrapping her in an effusive hug.
“It’s so nice to have you back.”
Her pleasure deepened when Irima mirrored her gestures, patting her lightly on the shoulder.
“Thank you Lillian. It’s nice to be back.”
Lillian waited by the sink as Irima disappeared into one of the toilet stalls, suddenly pressed by all the things she had bottled up inside for the past week. There had been no one to talk to. Besides, she did not think anyone would believe her. She smiled broadly when Irima joined her again.
“Can I talk to you about something?”
Irima nodded as she turned the faucet. The sound of rushing water filled the restroom as Lillian leaned closer to her.
“It’s about Omoni.”
The look of interest on Irima’s face encouraged Lillian to share her fears.
“She has changed. She is so different these days. After lunch today, I heard her laughing just before I opened the door.”
The uneasiness she had felt earlier returned and Lillian looked at the door.
“You should have heard the sound.” A shiver ran down Lillian’s spine and she shivered visibly. “It was evil.” She paused. “Demonic.”
Irima appeared lost in thought for a while and then cocked her head at Lillian.
“Did you say you saw her at your desk?”
“What was she doing?”
Lillian began to shake her head but stopped at the sight of the finger Irima was holding up.
“Wait, you receive Luke’s mails right?”
“Yes,” Lillian answered, wondering where the interrogation was heading.
“Did you log in any message from the company’s bankers recently?”
Lillian fought to remember, her face creasing deeply. Finally, she snapped her fingers.
“Yes. Three days ago. A message came that they were coming for a meeting tomorrow.”
Lillian waited patiently as several emotions crossed Irima’s face. Moments later, she widened her eyes.
“She changed the schedule,” she said, her voice, a low whisper. “She must have called the bankers and told them that Luke had moved the meeting forward.”
Lillian looked at Irima in confusion.
“I am not sure I under – ”
She jumped in surprise as Irima dashed past her to the door without another word. She stood perplexed by Irima’s sense of urgency and started towards the door to follow after her. Changing her mind at the last minute, she turned one more time to primp before the mirror.
I find her in the small canteen at the end of the corridor. The place is deserted but she does not hear me enter the room and make my way to her. As I draw close, I hear her humming in a strange language under her breath. The sound of her singing merges with the rustling of plastic bags as she takes out packets of Chinese food and sets them on the table. A minute later, she pulls out plates from the cupboard above her and empties the packets of fried noodles and diced meat into them. I take the final step towards her just in time to see her reach into the pocket of her skirt for something.
“What are you doing?”
Her eyes bulging in their sockets and her face animated with anger, she lowers her hand to her side.
“He asked for food.”
Lillian’s words fresh in my mind, I look deep into her eyes.
“This is why you changed his schedule. You wanted to get lunch for us yourself.”
I am close enough to catch the rotten scent that hangs around her like an aura. It does not turn my stomach like the first time. Instead it provides a clue to the strange look in her eye.
“Your smell,” I give her a long appraising look. “Everything about you is not normal.”
She stares at me, the hatred still on her face. I find myself strangely unfazed by her reaction and meet her stare boldly. After what seems like an hour, she steps away from the plates and marches to the door. I watch her go, only turning to the table when I am alone.
The noodles she had turned sat in a heap in the middle of the plate. I turn it over, scattering bits of meat and vegetable across the plate. I stare at it, repulsed by the thought of eating what Omoni had touched. Fetching one of the plastic bags on the table, I dump the noodles inside, knot the top and ditch it in the canteen bin. I leave for Luke’s office with the untouched pack of food, determined to do something about Omoni.
Luke is lounging in his chair when I enter his office. I set the food before him and take my place across his desk.
“I asked her to get for two of us,” he says when he notices the empty space before me.
“She did,” I tell him with a smile. “I am not hungry.”
I allow a short pause before I bring up the subject of his changed schedule.
“Did the bankers say anything about the meeting…why it was brought forward?”
“Nobody said anything. I guess I was the one who didn’t check with Omoni.”
I pretend to be interested in my phone as he eats. Halfway through his meal, I put my phone away and prop my elbows on his desk.
“Lillian thinks someone might be meddling with her computer.”
Following the lead of his eyebrows as they cock in question, I press on.
“She is afraid someone is stealing information from her computer.”
“I think you need to set up security cameras around her.”
“We have been doing fine without it,” Luke says with a shake of head. “We are fine.”
Suddenly desperate, I clasp my hands tightly until my nails bite into my palms.
“Luke please set up cameras. There might be things going on you need to be aware of.”
He sits for a while and then finally sighs. The tension in my middle eases as I sense victory.
“Fine. I will have Harry look into it.”
As he returns to his meal, I think of Omoni and what she had been trying to do. The security cameras were my last hope.