When I woke again, it was morning. Shayt was standing at the door to our compartment, speaking to a porter. There was food already on the table.
For someone who hadn't needed to eat in four thousand years, her sense of taste was still very good.
I rolled out of the bunk as she closed the door and turned around.
"Good morning. We're five hours from Alexandria. As you can see, breakfast is served. Help yourself."
Blinking sleepily, I joined her at the table, still in the nightgown she had once again provided.
"You know, Shayt, I think I've eaten more in the last two days than in the last two months."
She smiled at this. "Good. You need some more meat on you."
I looked down at myself, noting how the gown hung off of my body.
"Perhaps." I shrugged. "But if you keep feeding me like this, you'll soon have me too fat to do anything but eat!"
She laughed, a full blown, head back, belly shaking laugh. I realized this was the first time she had relaxed enough around me to do more than chuckle.
I watched her as I ate. Her story was still fresh in my mind, and I knew that she was waiting for my reaction. She probably expected me to be afraid, and if truth be told, I was, at least a little. But not of her. I was afraid of the powers that she had described, and what her story meant in terms of my belief in science. I was English, and while I had spent enough time on the streets to know that there were a great many forces in the world, I also had always known that the god of the twentieth century was science, with its empirical data and repeatable results. Knowing that there was something out there, something that science could not explain, and that it was standing right in front of me -- this shook me to the core.
But I was not afraid of Shayt herself. Instead, I was almost mesmerized by her, examining her even as I ate the platter of fruit that was my breakfast. The dark and flawless skin I had admired early on took on a whole new meaning for me. Her black hair, which once again hung down her back in a braid, shone like perfect silk in the light of the sun. I could suddenly imagine her as she stood in the temple, garbed in the robes of a priestess, with a sword girded at her waist.
Only her eyes stood out. I had never seen a pure Egyptian with eyes of crystal blue. I stared at them, transfixed, forgetting even to eat.
Shayt turned her head and looked at me.
"What is it, Daryl?"
"Have you always had blue eyes?" I blurted out.
A shadow seemed to once again cross her face, and I was sorry I'd asked.
"No. They were a result of my .... transformation. When I was born my eyes were dark brown, almost black." She gave a small shrug. "The change occurred due to the spices used in the recipe for Immortality." She picked up a glass, this time of orange juice. "Have you always had green eyes?"
I couldn't help but smile. "Yes. My father always said they reminded him of the rolling green hills of England." The smile faded. "Not that I remember the hills, or will ever see them again."
She looked at me, her head tilted to the side. "Is that what you'd like? To go back to England?"
Back to England? I had to consider that, and I bit my lip as I thought. Finally, I shook my head. "No. England is where I was born. But, Egypt is what I know and love. My mother always told me I had an old Egyptian soul, and I think she was right."
Shayt smiled gently. "Yes. An Egyptian soul, like a gift from the Nile."
Her eyes met mine, and for once, neither turned away. We stayed like that until the porter returned to take the breakfast dishes away.
As Shayt was speaking to him once again in the hallway, I found her knapsack from the night before and set it on the bed. Opening it, I took out the cushioned bag, and opened that as well. I waited until Shayt had closed the door and turned around before I began to unroll the statue.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking at the results of my work," I said. Soon there was only the linen covering left.
"That's not yours, you know."
I looked up at her, a grin on my face. "I helped steal it. I should have the right to look at it." The linen came off the statue, revealing its sleek black curves. Once again, I was struck by its simple beauty.
Shayt sat down on the bed next to me as I turned it over and over. Finally, I looked up at her.
"You never told me -- why would the name of Sakhmet appear on a statue of the cat-goddess?"
She shrugged. "Legends that have come down to this time do not tell the truth of the gods or goddesses. Sakhmet was the goddess of war, and was pictured as a lion. Bastet was the cat goddess, and the two of them were often worshipped together."
"I thought Sakhmet was normally featured with her husband and son. What were their names? Ptah and Nefertem?"
"Right, in the Old Kingdom that's true. But when Sakhmet became the protector of Pharaoh, her son and husband were dropped from her cult. She became, in many ways, the partner of Bastet. In the Middle Kingdom, to which my father's reign belongs, the two goddesses were honored in twin temples, such as the one I served in."
I ran my finger over the glyph, thinking. "So, this piece would actually be from the Middle Kingdom? Do you know when it was made?"
"Yes. It was created two hundred years after my father's death."
"And the goddesses were still worshipped together?"
"As they would be for another two or three centuries."
I nodded. "Then, I would bet that somewhere, who knows where exactly, there is a sister statue to this. One that depicts the lion goddess, Sakhmet, and carries the name of Bastet on its base."
I turned toward her to find an amused smile on her lips.
"Very good. There is indeed a sister to this piece."
I imitated her raised eyebrow look. "Would you happen to know where it is?"
She nodded. "If you like, I can show it to you when we get to Alexandria."
I couldn't stop the grin that appeared on my face. "I'd like that very much."
We sat on the bed like that for quite a while. I continued to hold the figure of Bastet in my lap, turning it from side to side and holding it up in the light from the window.
"I don't see how this could be a compass."
"I didn't say it was."
"Oh, right. You said the compass was hidden inside." I started looking for openings, or cracks in the stone, and found none. "But I don't see how that could be either."
With a chuckle, Shayt held out her hand and I passed the statue over to her. She stood the figure up on the bed, then pushed simultaneously on the symbols of the two goddesses. I could hear a soft click. When she picked up the statue again, the base stayed behind. Within it, there was a disc of gold, approximately three inches in diameter. I whistled softly as I picked it up to examine it.
It didn't look like a compass to me. It appeared, actually, to be a piece of a machine. There were small holes in the center of it, and one half of the piece had a raised lip, standing another half inch above its surface.
I looked up at Shayt quizzically. "This is a compass?"
"Part of one actually. The base. There's a second part that slides on top and then a third that goes through the middle of the other two pieces."
"I see." I turned it over in my hand several times. "So, without the other pieces, this part doesn't mean much, does it?"
She shook her head.
"Do you have the other two pieces, Shayt?"
She smiled. "No. I have the one that was hidden in the base of the twin statue."
I nearly slapped my head. "Of course! That makes a lot of sense."
"Do you know where the third one is?"
A nod. "I'll have it before we leave for Memphis."
I looked back at the piece, trying to imagine what it would look like when all three pieces were put together.
"Why are we going to Memphis?"
"Because one can only find the hidden temple while standing in the tomb of Queen Sobeknefru."
The name was totally unfamiliar to me. "Who was she?"
"She was the last Pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty. She reigned for only four years before chaos descended upon Egypt. Between civil wars and bad leadership, it was at least two centuries before the country had a true leader again."
"I thought Amenemhet the third was the final ruler of the twelfth dynasty."
"No, but close. His son only ruled for seven years, and three of those were with his mother as regent. He died in his teens, and the battle for the throne is what threw the country into chaos."
Shayt had leaned back against the wall, and for the first time there was a relaxed attitude in her pose. I wanted the trip to last for days, so I could work on discovering this enigmatic woman beside me.
"Have you left Egypt, Shayt? Traveled anywhere else?"
"Yes. I believe at some point I've touched most of the world. I've never been to the Australian continent, but I have traveled as far as the Americas, and seen what you call the Far East."
"You've been to England?"
She smiled. "Yes. I've been to the land of Arthur and Camelot."
That made me stop and think. "Shayt -- was Camelot real? Did Arthur exist?"
"Of course Arthur existed. Though by a slightly different name. And no, Camelot did not fade away into the mists. It was destroyed, by a horde of Celts."
"Was it really called Camelot?"
"No. I forget the name. It was a long time ago."
I had to stop and think about all that Shayt had seen and lived through. Not just the Great War in this century, but the entire history of my country, of Europe, and more. She had lived through the birth of Christ, and the fall of Rome. She had been alive when Pompeii was crushed beneath Vesuvius. When the prophet Mohammed walked the earth. When the crusades devastated the Holy land.
This, I realized, was a treasure in itself.
"There are so many things I want to ask," I said, suddenlly filled with awe for this woman who sat beside me.
"Well, then, ask. We have a few more hours till we reach Alexandria."
I could tell you incredible stories about the things Shayt shared with me in the long hours of our train ride.
The true cause of the fire that destroyed the library at Alexandria. The story of Cleopatra. The terror of Caligula's reign in Rome, and how he really died.
The coming of Christianity and the barbarism of the crusades. The horror of the black plague, and the wonders of the Renaissance.
The history that Shayt had lived through could never be recorded. Knowing, however, was enough for me, and I listened avidly as she wound the stories of centuries around us.
As we approached the city, her tales faded away, leaving us in a comfortable silence. Both of us were still on the bed, our backs against the wall, and our shoulders barely touching. Shayt had her long legs drawn up in front of her, while my shorter ones dangled just over the edge.
I had rewrapped the statue, the compass back in its hiding place. It was once again inside the canvas wrapping and the cushioned bag.
As the city came into view through the window, I decided to ask her one more question. It was something I'd been putting off, not wanting to destroy the relaxed pose she'd affected.
"I understand now why we're going to Alexandria, and then backtracking to Memphis. You needed to get the other parts of the compass so you could find the temple, right?"
"But, that still leaves the question of why you wish to find it."
As I expected, her eyes darkened, and shadows crossed her face again. The lines of her body went taut.
"Because there is something I need to do there. Something.... that needs to be finished."
I raised an eyebrow at that. "Finished?"
She nodded, and stood up. "We'll be in Alexandria soon. I'll go --"
I grabbed her arm, hanging on in spite of the raised eyebrow.
"Tell me what needs to be finished, Shayt."
The blue eyes blinked, but she said nothing.
"From your story, Shayt, the only thing left undone was the completion of the ritual for your brother's immortality. Is that what you need to finish?"
She stared at me. "My brother is buried far beneath the hidden temple, and will never awaken."
I sighed in relief. "Then tell me what you need to finish?"
She shook her head and pulled her arm away from me. "I can't. It's...I just can't, Daryl."
Then she stepped to the door. "I'll check with the porter about our luggage. Be back in a minute." And she was once again gone.
The city of Alexandria stands on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. Here, it is easy to forget that Egypt is a country of mostly sand and dry winds. The sea air of the city is always moist, and salty, with a hint of fish from the market.
It was completely different from Cairo and I inhaled the scents and the sounds with exhilaration.
Our baggage, including the boxes of my father's belongings, would follow us to our destination. Shayt led me along a winding road that came ever closer to the sea. Just before the harbor, she turned and we began to climb a hill that led to an iron gate. At the gate, she rang the bell, and waited.
"Where are we?"
"At the temple of the God Bes. My rooms are here; they're the only permanent dwelling I keep."
I watched as two guards stepped away from the building and came toward us. "Why here?"
"Because," she said softly, "this is the one place in all of Egypt where I feel comfortable. It is the only place that I know I am accepted and ..."
Her words trailed off as the guards opened the gate. I was surprised when they both bowed to her, one arm outstretched in a gesture of welcome.
Shayt smiled. "The only place I am honored." She nodded to the guards as she passed them. I followed her, as she climbed a small set of stairs and entered the building.
We were in the front hall of what very well could have been either a temple, or a museum. Paintings lined the walls, as beautifully and skillfully done as any that graced a Pharaoh's tomb. There were four doors leading into the room where we stood, and each of them had a niche built into the wall next to it. In these small holes sat figurines, each with the same face, but in a different pose.
In front of us was a grand staircase, and on either side of the stairs stood a statue of a strange figure. The image was that of a short, fat little man, with a lion's mane around his head, and great bushy eyebrows.
The stairs themselves went up to the second floor landing, on which there was a painted image of the same short man. The words written above the painting said, "You are welcome in the Temple of Bes." To either side of the landing, more stairs led onto different wings of a third floor. The ceiling rose up high above us in a unique dome shape that I had never seen before. Light poured in through windows that ran around the room in a circle, just below the dome itself.
I looked down to find a mosaic on the floor, forming the picture of a desert temple, with the Great Pyramid rising in the background. I wondered if this was the hidden temple that Shayt was seeking.
There were footsteps on the stairs and I looked up to see the approach of a short woman in a long flowing gown. She was maybe a full inch shorter than me, with long black hair that hung down her back in a flowing wave. She was well built, thin, but not painfully so. Her brown eyes were pleasant, and her smile was warm as she came down and bowed before Shayt.
"You know better than to bow to me, Mishra." The woman stood and Shayt leaned over to give her a hug. "It has been a long time since I was Pharaoh's daughter."
"Ah, but you will always be the Princess Ashayt." Mishra looked up, peering into the blue eyes. "You look tired, my friend. I think it is good that you have come home."
Shayt nodded. "I think so, too." She smiled at Mishra, the motioned toward me. "I bring you a guest. This is the daughter of James and Delia Bromley. Daryl, this is Mishra, high priestess of the temple of Bes."
Mishra lowered her head. I did the same, and then looked up into warm brown eyes that seemed almost as ageless as Shayt's blue ones. Judging only on her first appearance, I would have guessed that Mishra was perhaps thirty years of age. But her eyes showed many years more.
"You are welcome, Daryl Bromley. Allow us to give you the hospitality of Bes."
I nodded, trying to think of words to thank her properly. "Um, it is an honor to be here, Priestess. My thanks for your warm welcome."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shayt smile, and guessed I had said something right.
Mishra placed a hand on my shoulder and looked up at Shayt. "We have one small problem, Princess."
A dark eyebrow slowly rose. "A problem?"
"Yes. We have no guest rooms at the moment. Would it be possible for her to stay with you?"
"No rooms?" A second eyebrow joined its partner.
"It is the time of the festival. Friends have come to join us from as far away as Thebes."
"Festival already?" Shayt frowned. "You are early in your celebrations, aren't you?"
"Yes, we are. Our forecasters told us it would be early, and I myself received a dream telling me the ceremony should be performed the first night of the full moon, which is tomorrow night." She spread her hands out. "It has been hard to find rooms for everyone as it is; I'm afraid we don't even have a spare bed for our new friend."
Shayt gave a sigh, and ran a hand across her forehead. "Yes, all right, put her in my room. If necessary I can sleep on the divan, and let her have the bed."
I was about to protest, but a glance from Shayt left me silent.
"Mishra, will you have a bath sent up, please? Two of them? It has been a long ride from Cairo."
Mishra bowed once more. "Of course, Princess. Shall I send dinner as well?"
"Yes, please." She pointed toward me. "This one is skin and bones under those clothes."
The priestess laughed and nodded. "Dinner it is. Go, my friend, and rest."
Shayt squeezed her friend's shoulder, then led me up the stairs to the third floor. As we took the turn at the second landing, I glanced back down to see Mishra watching us with a speculative look on her face.
"Shayt, what type of festival were you and Mishra speaking of?"
We were alone in Shayt's room, which actually turned out to be a suite of three rooms, including a bedchamber, a sitting room, and a small library.
The bath had been delivered, and to my surprise it was one tub, large enough for both of us. We sat facing one another, leaning back against the sides of the tub, letting the hot water relax us.
"Do you know who Bes is?"
"I believe so. Bes is the Egyptian god of wine and celebration, isn't he?"
Shayt had her head back, and her eyes were closed. The water lapped gently at the area just above her breasts. Her arms were spread out along the edge of the tub, and her whole position was one of total relaxation.
I figured if I was careful, I could ask more questions.
"Well, Bes became the god of wine, but only after the Greeks entered Egypt. In their eyes he was similar to their god Dionysus, the god of the vine. Bes, however, was worshipped for more than wine and song and dance."
"And this celebration that begins tomorrow?"
She smiled, not opening her eyes. "It is the festival of the new wine."
"Yes. The temple of Bes today, as in the old days, makes sweet wine from the fruit of the palm tree. The harvest of the dates has been completed, and in celebration they will open the first bottles of wine made from last year's harvest. The wine will be blessed by the priests and priestesses, and everyone will drink."
"Ah, so this is basically an excuse for everyone to have a giant party, is that it?"
That got a chuckle from her.
"I suppose you could think of it in that way. But it is more than a party. Before the partaking of the wine there will be a ritual to thank the god for the harvest, and ask him for continued good will in the year to come. Since Bes is seen as a god of fertility, couples may come and ask for his blessings so that they may have a child. There will be other rites as well."
I was surprised to see a light flush color Shayt's cheeks.
"Just.... never mind. I'm sure you'll find out tomorrow."
"Will I be allowed to go to the festival? Or do I have to be initiated or something first?"
The blush deepened slightly. "Um, no, you don't have to do anything. You won't be allowed to see all of the rituals, but you'll certainly be more than welcome at the celebration." She shifted her position, drawing her arms down into the water. "But, you might want to be careful. The new wine, once it is blessed, is very powerful. I'd suggest that you not drink it."
"I'm sure I'll be fine."
"I'd rather you didn't, just the same."
I shrugged. "All right."
A smile skipped across her face and was gone.
"Do they know who you are, here?"
Her head came up and she looked at me. "Yes. They know who I am, and what I am."
"How do they know? And why do they honor you so? Is it simply because you were the daughter of a Pharaoh?"
I half expected the shadows to cover her face again, but instead she simply looked down. Her long fingers played in the water as she spoke.
"Did you see the mosaic on the floor downstairs?"
"The one of the desert temple? Yes, I saw it. Is that the great temple you're looking for?"
"No." She shook her head. "That is the temple of Bes that stood in El Bahariya, near the oasis. It existed there for nearly two thousand years."
I had never heard of such a temple. "What happened to it?"
"In the middle of the eleventh century A.D., as you Christians count the years, the temple came under attack. The worshippers of Bes were told to convert to Christianity, or perish. Parts of the temple were demolished, and people were killed. Hearing about the attack, I traveled to Bahariya and managed to rescue the high priest and most of his disciples. In doing so, however, I had a spear thrust into my stomach. Instead of dying, I removed the spear and sent it flying back into the chest of the man who threw it in the first place. I was called demon and devil by those in the crowd, but they would not touch me. I helped the cult of Bes move to the city of Alexandria, where I had been residing. The high priest, having heard the stories of pharaoh's living daughter, declared me a sacred member of the cult, and swore I would always find sanctuary with them. I have continued to make certain that no one disturbs them, and they have given me .... a home, of sorts."
"So, you're their hero."
"No," Shayt shood her head vehemently. "I'm no hero. A hero is someone who does something special against all odds -- someone who defies the gods and stands up to them, instead of becoming their plaything. Me? I'm the toy of the gods."
The shadows were back on her face.
"If you're looking for a hero, look somewhere else." She stood and climbed out of the bath. Turning back to me, she looked down and said, "If you need a hero, look to yourself -- you had the courage to survive, and you did, against all odds. That makes you far more heroic than I." She grabbed a towel from the stack on the nearby chair, and retreated to the bedroom.
I closed my eyes. Even though I'd heard her words, I couldn't really fathom what she was saying.
Perhaps because I'd been looking at one of the most perfect bodies I'd ever seen.
The image stayed with me and I sat there in silence until the water turned cold.
Shayt left the apartment as I was just beginning to dress. She reminded me that dinner would be on its way up, then closed the door before I could answer her.
Closing my eyes I could see her body once more as she climbed from the bath. Long legs, silky skin, with firm breasts that swayed back and...
There was heat covering my skin, and I opened my eyes again, shaking my head.
This wasn't the first time I'd found a woman's body attractive. At the orphanage, I'd gotten into trouble by having a crush on one of the older girls. She was sixteen and didn't take kindly to this fourteen year old that followed her around like a puppy.
After I'd run away I had met another young woman in the market place. Just a half year older than I was, she would let me help her in her job at her father's stand, where he sold fresh produce. After the market closed, the two of us would often stroll down by the banks of the river, just south of the piers. After we passed out from under the city lights, she'd take my hand in hers, and I can still remember trembling from the contact.
When her father announced they were moving, we were both bitterly disappointed, and on the night of our final stroll, I gathered my courage and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled, and kissed me on the lips before squeezing my hand and running away, back to her father's house.
Hours later, her two older brothers found me as I was walking back to the hole in the wall that was currently my home. For the crime of "corrupting their sister" they stuffed my mouth with dirty cotton, held me against a wall, and used a switch on my back.
I'd never approached another woman, in friendship or anything else.
Men had never held any interest for me. I'd had several who wanted to sleep with me, and one or two that even offered marriage. I had declined all such offers. I was, as most people thought, unnatural.
And here I was, having unnatural thoughts about the woman who had saved me from the streets.
I was in the middle of these thoughts, and worrying whether Shayt would abandon me if she saw the way I looked at her, when there was a knock at the door. Pulling a shirt over my head, I answered it, to find a young woman, about my own age, holding a platter of covered dishes.
"I have brought your dinner, mistress."
"Come in." I opened the door wider and let her step through. "And please don't call me mistress."
She placed the tray on the table and then held out the chair for me.
"How shall I address you then? We were not told your name -- only that you were the guest of the princess."
"My name is Daryl."
She smiled at me and nodded. "Daryl. Good. And I am Mandisa."
"Nice to meet you, Mandisa." I sniffed as the aroma from the tray reached my nose. My stomach growled in response.
The young woman laughed. "I can hear how hungry you are. Sit, Daryl. Enjoy."
I sat, pulling the cover off the main dish. "Will you join me?"
"I have already eaten."
"Then just sit and talk to me, please?"
She glanced uneasily around. "Would the princess be upset with me?"
"For what? Sitting here and talking to me?"
"Well, for sitting alone with you, in her rooms. I mean..." her voice trailed off as I stared at her. After a moment, she pulled out a second chair from the table and sat.
"Good," I said.
We grinned at each other.
"So, what do you do here, Mandisa? Are you a cook?"
She laughed. "No. You should be very glad I didn't cook for you. The last time I tried to help in the kitchen, the cooks said I nearly poisoned everyone. Now, I just serve."
I swallowed a bite, and sighed. "Well, whoever did cook is very good." I stabbed at a piece of meat, tearing it free. "So, you just work here?"
"No, I'm a priestess here at the temple. Most of the people who live here are priests or priestesses."
"How long have you lived here?"
"Oh, nearly six years now. And before you ask, yes, I love it. I knew long ago that I wanted to follow my older sister in her calling."
"And who is your sister?"
I stopped in the middle of a bite. "Mishra? Is your sister?"
She laughed. "Yes, my much older sister. I'm not quite 20, and she's nearly 45. We share the same father, but had different mothers."
That made sense, I thought.
I decided to change the topic.
"So, how long have you known Shayt?"
Mandisa raised an eyebrow. "The princess? Oh, I don't know. She's been here since I was a child. I think she was gone for several years before that, but for the past -- I don't know-- eight years or so she's been staying here very regularly."
"And you know who she is?"
"Princess Ashayt Hathor Idut Kemshet, the living daughter of Pharaoh Amenemhet I, Princess of Upper and Lower Egypt, blessed servant of the goddess Sakhmet, beloved friend of the god Bes."
I stared at her for a moment, then swallowed. "Um, yes. I guess you do know."
She shrugged. "It is not a secret within these walls. Her history is known here, and the records of her life are kept in our library."
"Really." That sounded intriguing. "I'd love to read that."
Mandisa frowned. "I -- don't know that you'd be allowed. The library is the place of study for the priests and priestesses. You'd need permission to be allowed in."
"And who would i go to for permission?"
She shrugged. "Mishra."
"Okay. I'll ask her. Do you think there's any reason she'll say no?"
The frown returned. "Well... maybe. I don't know how she'd feel about showing the Princess's private records to her new lover."
I stared at her in shock. "Ne--" My voice squeeked, and I had to clear my throat and start over. "New lover?"
"Yes." She looked at me in confusion. "Is something the matter?"
"Umm..." I couldn't speak. They think I'm her lover? What does that mean? "Could you explain that please?"
"Explain wha -- oh." Mandisa put a hand to her mouth, then moved it away. "You mean, you're not?"
I shook my head. "Umm. No. Not at all." I had a sudden memory of Shayt's body, and I began to sweat.
"Oh. I see. I'm sorry. I'll make sure to pass the word." She cocked her head in a thoughtful position. "I wonder if that means..." Mandisa let her voice trail off.
"Means what? What could that mean?" I asked.
"Well, I'm wondering if that means she'll celebrate the festival with Mishra, like she used to."
"With Mishra?" I felt a little chill.
"Yes. Her and the Princess have always been... friends, and they've spent many celebrations together. There are even rumors they had an affair."
The chill grew until it covered my back.
"An affair? You mean, as in romantic? And..."
"And sexual. Yes." She frowned again, and looked at me intensely. "Do you have a problem with that? I mean, I know most English women are raised to believe in only men and women falling in love, but --"
"Yes, and so are most Egyptians."
"Yes. Which is why I'm so glad I grew up here. The ways of the god are those of love and pleasure. Not hate, like many I've heard of."
Love and pleasure. The chill got a little bigger, reaching the top of my shoulders. "So, this festival tomorrow."
She smiled and started telling me about the new wine, and the celebration.
I listened and smiled while she described what I could only picture as an orgy.
But the chill kept growing.
The suite was not ornate in any way. The walls were a soft beige, but filled with frescoes in brilliant colors. Some of the art depicted merely shapes and objects, while others were scenes of great intricacy. There was a one showing Shayt as the priestess of Sakhmet. In another she bowed to the god Bes, whose hand was stretched out towards her, offering his follower a bottle. The detail in these paintings was amazing, and I shivered as I gazed into the blue eyes that blazed almost as brightly as my friend's.
The furnishings were comfortable, and included a large couch along one wall of the living room, where I decided I would be sleeping that night. Shayt had done enough for me -- let her sleep in her own bed tonight.
A set of windows stretched across the room opposite the couch. The scene it presented was a mixture of peace and chaos. Closest to the building was a garden, where beautiful trees and flowers grew unhindered, cared for by loving hands. Even now, as the sun began to set, there were people weeding and pruning, picking fruit from the trees. Beyond the garden was the road we had traveled up, and a wide grove of palm trees. On the other side of that was Alexandria itself. The noise of the city couldn't be heard this far away, but I could imagine it well as I watched camels, people, rickshaws, and even a few motorcars move back and forth through the streets.
This, I thought, was my life in one picture. For so long it was the chaos of the city. Now, thanks to Shayt, it was the peace of the garden.
Irritated by my maudlin thoughts, I turned from the window to continue my examination of the suite.
I found myself in the library, which was really just a room with a small table and lamp, and a comfortable chair for reading. This appeared to be the most used room in the suite, and I could easily imagine Shayt spending long hours here.
The walls of the room were covered in bookshelves which were themselves filled by books and manuscripts. Here and there was a stack of parchment, and occasionally a scroll appeared nestled among it's hardbound companions. I found myself gazing around in almost reverence, before I shook my head and sat down in the chair.
There was a stack of books on the floor near the foot of the nearest bookcase. I tilted my head and began to read the titles. One of them seemed familiar, and I reached down to pull it from between two others.
The title was The God-Cults of Egypt, and the author was Marlon le Fleur. My father had owned a copy of this book and I had read it numerous times. It disappeared when he did, along with my mother. Seeing it made me smile sadly. I glanced back at the other books, and noticed several other familiar names and titles. The subject matter included Greek and Egyptian mythology, archeological finds in Egypt, and a dissertation on the translation of hieroglyphics. There was also a thin book that I didn't recognize entitled "Sakhmet and Bastet: Cat Goddesses of Egypt." At first that made no sense, since only Bastet was pictured as a cat. Then I remembered that Sakhmet was often pictured as having the head of a lion, much like Anubis had the head of a jackal and Horus the head of a falcon. Most of the Egyptian gods were represented in this fashion.
Curious, I pulled the book out and opened it. As I began to read, I noticed that there were marks off to the side of the text, in the margins. While they made little sense to me, they felt familiar, as if I'd seen them somewhere before. Irritated, I tried to block them out and just read the book.
I was about halfway through when I came across the notation Twin temple -- S says she knows where one of the three compass pieces is. Believe one is in Cairo, and last one is near Thebes. The handwriting was once again familiar.
I don't know what it was, whether divine inspiration or just curiosity, but I flipped quickly to the back of the book. There, in the same handwriting as the notes, was the name James Bromley. I stared at it for what felt like hours.
For a moment I couldn't think. Then I reached down for another book, and checked the back page. Again, James Bromley. The same name was inscribed in a third book, and then a fourth. As I kept examining the stacked books, I realized all of them had belonged to my father. And they had all disappeared with him and my mother four year previously.
Shayt had not only known my father, but she had seen him between the time he left Cairo and the time he disappeared in the Egyptian desert.
I flipped back to the note in the middle of the book I'd been reading. There was a message there and I needed to decipher it. "Twin temple" meant the temple of Sakhmet and Bastet. "S" had to be Shayt.
Thebes was the last place I had gotten a letter from my parents.
So, they had been helping Shayt to look for the compass pieces. She already had one piece, or knew where it was when the notation was made. Father had believed one to be in Cairo -- probably the same piece that I had helped Shayt steal from the museum. Which left one last piece unaccounted for. Father had obviously been searching for it near Thebes.
Had he found it? Shayt had told me on the train that she had it in her possession. How did she get it? And did she know what happened to my parents?
Did she have a hand in what happened to my parents?
Suddenly the room seemed to take on a more menacing aspect, and I glanced around to find shadows creeping over me. I stood, gathering several books with me, and left the small library.
I moved toward the couch, intending to drop the books there and then go find Shayt. A figurine on a shelf in the corner stopped me cold.
It was a stone statuette of Sakhmet, with the same proportions and coloring as the sculpture of Bastet. It stood on the same type of heavy black base. For a moment I just stared at it. Then I dropped my books and moved to the statue.
The names of both goddesses were inscribed in the base, and I pressed them hard at the same time. I was rewarded with a click, and I lifted the statue off it's base, revealing the golden compass piece inside.
I was still staring at it when I heard a noise at the door. I whirled around to find Shayt entering the suite.
She noticed me, and stopped. Her eyes flicked over me, and then to the statue I stood by. An eyebrow edged up slightly and she closed the door. Folding her arms she leaned back against it.
"If you had asked me, I would have shown you the piece."
I swallowed and had to clench my fists to keep from either screaming at her, or breaking down in tears.
"Is this the one my father found near Thebes?"
Her eyes widened. After a glance at the pile of books on the couch, she nodded, as if to herself. "Yes, it is."
"When did he find it?"
"Just days before he died."
I felt the breath catch in my chest. "You know what happened to my parents?"
She nodded. "I do."
The pain from my hands let me know that my nails were cutting into my palms. But the pain was helping me stay in control, and I just squeezed them tighter.
"Did you kill them?"
Shayt tilted her head and looked at me with a speculative glance. "What would you do if I told you I did?"
That was a good question. There was nothing in this world that could harm her physical body. Even beheading her wouldn't kill her.
But I knew something that would hurt her. I reached into the opened cavity within the statue and took out the compass piece. It was similar to the one I'd seen earlier that day. Calmly, I placed the piece on the desk and picked up the statue that had held it. I raised it over my head and glanced back to see Shayt standing straight up, her eyes wide.
Gold, you see, is actually a very soft metal. Striking it with a heavy stone object, I thought, could damage it enough to make it unusable. Shayt's reaction proved me right.
"I didn't kill them, Daryl."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because. I can tell you what happened to them, and you may also ask Mishra and Achmed. They were with me in Thebes."
I lowered the statue, but didn't put it down. "Tell me what happened."
She sighed and came further into the room. "Do you want the whole story of how I met your parents, or just the story of their deaths?"
"Both. But tell me how they died, first."
"All right." Shayt sat down on the couch, next to the haphazard stack of books. "As you probably figured out, your father was helping me find the pieces of the compass. He figured out that the sculpture of Bastet he'd found years earlier was probably the one I was looking for. There's one that's hidden here in the temple of Bes. The third one I had no idea of how to locate.
"James had a scroll that he'd found in a collection in Cairo. Translating it, we found clues about where the statue had been taken. It's last known location, recorded in the eighth century, was a valley oasis near Thebes. The oasis is actually desert now, and the ruins there are dangerous. There are no real roads into the area, and thievery abounds. When he said he wanted to go, I asked him to wait -- I wanted to go with him, but couldn't at that time. He sent me a telegram saying he and your mother would meet me at the site."
Letting out a long breath, Shayt leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees. "I was out of the country at that time, and the telegram waited for me here at the temple. When I received it, I asked Achmed, one of the priests here, to accompany me. Mishra insisted on going along; she and your mother had become friends of a sort when I had brought your parents here for a short stay.
"When we got to Thebes, we found that they had been staying at a hotel, and only traveling to the ruins for a day or two at a time. Then they'd return to the hotel and replenish their supplies. It was tedious, since it was a half day's camel ride out to the site, but it was good strategy -- it kept the thieves off balance as to when they would be where. Most of the thieving rings in Thebes are disorganized, and they pick on unwary travelers and foolish archeologists. Your father was neither of those things.
"We found their rooms vandalized, their belongings either missing or destroyed. Leaving Mishra at the hotel, Achmed and I made our way out to the valley, looking for any signs of their dig. I hoped they had just gone for an extended stay and the mess at the hotel had been random. But as we entered the valley, I could hear gunshots, and shouting. A group of thieves had James and Delia trapped between two walls in the ruins of an ancient building. James had a rifle but that was it, and there were five men facing him. Achmed pulled out the rifle he carried, and began firing, trying to draw the attention of the attackers. I made my way through the ruins, and took the men out one by one. When the last one fell, I went to check on your parents."
Shayt leaned back and I could see a wetness on her cheeks. She stared up at the ceiling.
"Delia was dead. There was a bullet wound in her back, and a gaping hole in her chest. There was nothing I could do. When I checked James I found him alive and conscious, but he'd been hit and was bleeding bad. He told me that he'd found the statue and hidden it in Thebes." She raised a hand and wiped her cheek. "Then he asked me to watch out for his daughter, and he died in my arms."
We were both silent for a few minutes. Finally, Shayt cleared her throat and turned to look at me. "One of the thieves was still alive. He admitted that he and his men had been paid to find the Bromleys and take a certain statue from them. They knew it had been found, because the man who hired them told them he'd heard it from Bromley himself. They had searched the hotel room, and then come to the dig site to find the statue. He couldn't tell me his employers name, unfortunately. And I hadn't left any of the others alive."
She shifted position and looked down at her hands. "We buried them in the desert, Achmed, Mishra and I. James had always told us that was what he wanted, to be buried among the ruins he'd spent his life discovering. We erected stones for each of them, inscribed in hieroglyphics. Then we retrieved the statue and returned to Alexandria, bringing all their belongings with us. To the authorities, it seemed they had just vanished into the desert. I thought it best that it remain that way." Blue eyes turned to me with an apology. "I'm sorry. I should have gone to Cairo right after that, and made sure you were taken care of. But when I inquired at the museum, I was told you were in an orphanage and doing fine. There didn't seem to be anything else to do."
"Who did you speak to at the museum?"
"Caster. He told me you were being well taken care of." She shook her head. "It wasn't until six or eight months ago that I realized what a rat the man is. I discovered that he had made a deal and was helping to remove Egyptian treasures from the country to Great Britain. When I found out you weren't at the place he said you were, and that you hadn't been for some time, I began to look for you. It was just two months ago that I saw you in the market, and knew you had to be James's daughter. So I watched you, waiting for an opportunity."
"When did you figure out where the statue of Bastet was?"
She picked up the small book I'd been reading ealier. "This was stuffed into a box of James' belongings. I decided to read it and discovered a note he'd made."
I nodded. "I found it earlier this evening."
Shayt turned the pages of the book slowly. "He was a good man, your father. I've missed him for the last few years."
That was finally enough to make the tears roll down my face. I put the compass piece back in its box and wiped at my eyes. As I replaced the statue onto its base, the pain settled firmly in my chest, and I started to sob.
Suddenly I was in Shayt's arms and she was holding me close, lifting me up to carry me to the couch. She made soothing sounds, trying to calm the tremors running through my body as I wept.
It took quite a while for my grief to retreat back into the recesses of my mind and heart. I found myself wrapped tightly in Shayt's strong arms, my cheek resting against the curve of her breast. I sniffled a few more times and then lifted my head.
Those blue eyes were so close, and I could see sympathy and concern in them. I gave her a half smile and lifted my hand to her face.
The feel of her skin was like rough silk, warmed by the sun. I gently stroked her cheek with my fingertips, watching the swirling depths of her bluer than blue eyes. As I gazed at them, they changed, deepening in color. Her nostrils flared slightly, and I thought for a moment I could see desire in her eyes.
Then her gaze dropped, and her arms loosened around me. I pulled my hand away from her cheek, and slowly untangled myself from her clasp.
"It's been a long day. You should go to bed."
I nodded, standing up. "All right. I'll sleep here on the sofa."
"That's not nece--"
"I insist." I put my hand up to stop her protest. "The couch is just fine, and I have not desire to kick you out of your bed."
She smiled at me, and chuckled. "Fine. You take the couch." She stood in front of the couch looking around awkwardly. "Well, do you need anything else? Sheets, pillows?"
I shook my head. "No, Mandisa brought some up earlier. I'll be fine, I'm sure."
Shayt nodded and took a step towards her room. She looked back at me. "If you need anything, I'll be in the other room. Just yell, or..." she paused, "come get me."
"I'm sure I'll be fine." I waited a moment. "I'm sorry about earlier, Shayt. I didn't really think you'd killed them."
She dropped her head again, then raised it to look at me. "I wouldn't have blamed you if you did. I should have told you the whole story sooner. I'm glad I told you now."
I nodded, and smiled at her. "So am I."
We stood and gazed at one another for several minutes, before she slowly, reluctantly, turned away. Shayt looked back once when she got to the bedroom door, and smiled at me. "Goodnight, Daryl."
The door closed behind her and I practically fell back
against the couch. Whether I was feeling relief or regret, I couldn't
My friend was once again gone when I woke in the morning. I thought about waiting for her to return, but then my stomach growled, and I went in search of food. Mandisa found me as soon as I left the room. After breakfast, she showed me the kitchen, and the music room, and took me into the gardens to search for Mishra. We found her picking herbs in a shady area under an olive tree.
She looked up at us, one hand blocking the sun. "Good morning, friend of the princess. How are you feeling?"
"I'm well, thank you." I followed Mandisa's example and bowed to her.
"There is no need for formality, little one. You are not of our temple or our ways, and I am merely your elder, nothing more." She looked up at her sister. "Are you prepared for the ritual this evening?"
Mandisa smiled and nodded. "I've done all that's required, except for the cleansing, which I'll do after the noon meal."
"And until then? Do you have duties?"
"Only to guide our new friend, here. The princess asked me to keep her company."
Mishra nodded. "Good. " She handed to her sister a basket full of herbs. "Please take these into the kitchen, and bring me another basket. I will keep our guest company until you return."
"Yes, Priestess." My companion smiled at me and left.
"Come, Daryl Bromley, sit down beside me." I moved closer to Mishra, sitting beside her on the ground. "Do you know about this herb?"
"No. What is it?"
"It is the bodhi plant. In the land of India it is sacred to Vishnu. Buddhists believe that the Buddha took shelter under its leaves."
"Here it is used in our worship. The leaves will be dried, ground, and stored in jars. This evening, some that has already been dried will be mixed with cinnamon, sage, sandalwood, and dragon's blood to make an incense that will be burned during our ritual."
"A resin, from the sap of the palm tree. As with herbs, dragon's blood is dried, and ground. It increases the power of the incense, and therefore the ritual."
"I see." I watched her as she picked several more leaves, carefully removing them from the plant. "This ritual tonight. What is it? What happens?"
She glanced at me. "Mandisa told you nothing?"
"She told me some, but I didn't understand it all. To me it sounded -- um --"
"Sexual?" There was a smile on her face, and she gave me a wink. "It can be. If the energy is right. Bes is the god of wine, but he is also the god of pleasure, especially pleasures of the flesh."
"So, tonight is basically an orgy?"
"No. Tonight is a solemn ritual, celebrating the completion of the harvest and the opening of the new wine. It is also to ask for the fertility of the earth to continue."
"And after the ritual? Then there will be an orgy?"
Mishra looked carefully at me. "It will not be an orgy. An orgy is for the pleasure of the participants only. This will be a sexual ritual for the pleasure of the god. There is a difference."
"Okay." I raised an eyebrow, but didn't disagree. "I wanted to ask you something. I would have asked Sha-- I mean, the princess, but I don't know where she is this morning."
"She is in Alexandria. Something about arranging for transportation. I understand the two of you are taking a trip."
"That's what she told me."
"So, your question?"
I looked down at the ground, playing with a shriveled leaf. "I was wondering if I could read the records in the library. The ones on Pharaoh's daughter."
Mishra was silent. I kept my attention focused on the leaf, and waited. Finally, she sighed, and I looked up.
"I cannot give you permission for such a thing. That can only come from Ashayt herself. I'm sorry, little one."
"But, since you seem to be so interested," she smiled at me, "I will have Mandisa take you to read the scrolls concerning the ritual this evening. Part of it will take place in the inner sanctum of the temple, and that you will not be allowed to observe. The rest of it, you can see, and even participate if you wish."
"Shayt didn't seem to think that was a good idea."
Mishra laughed. "The princess worries too much. I don't think you would be harmed by participating." She looked closely at me. "You have been with a man before?"
I shook my head.
"Ah." The priestess's face turned pensive. "I can see why she is concerned. The ritual can be -- overwhelming."
"Okay." I noticed that I'd shredded the leaf I'd been holding. "But I can read about it? And observe?"
We both looked up as Mandisa returned and handed her sister a new basket.
"Thank you, Mandisa. Would you be kind enough to take our guest to the library? You may show her the scrolls concerning the ritual for this evening."
"The scrolls? Perhaps the translations would be better."
"Perhaps. Let Daryl see the scrolls at least. If she is anything like her father said, then she could probably read the old language."
"My father spoke of me?" I asked. Part of me was sad that I had never been able to see this place with my parents, or share their secrets.
Mishra smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. "Your parents loved you very much, little one. They were proud of you, and knew you would become a wonderful young woman." She squeezed gently. "And you have. I'm sure they're very pleased."
For a moment I couldn't speak, or even move.
My parents proud of me? I was a thief. A street urchin. I had nothing to my name, and would have been in prison if Shayt hadn't saved me in the market.
When I didn't say anything, Mishra turned fully to me and put her hands on my face. She brought my gaze to hers and smiled. "You are a beautiful young woman, with so much yet to learn. Do not dwell on what has been; look instead to what will be."
I still couldn't say anything, but I nodded, and gave a half-hearted smile.
Mandisa held out a hand and helped me stand up.
I followed her silently as we walked back into the building.
Continued in Part Three
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