We boarded the train shortly after dawn. I watched from the windows of our compartment as the city of Alexandria faded from view.
There were three people accompanying us: Mishra, Achmed, and a young man named Onuris, who was studying to be a priest. Shayt and I stayed in one compartment, and the others in one directly across from us. The two cabins took up one entire train car.
I spent part of the day talking with Shayt, asking her questions about things she had seen, and done. This time I recorded them in a notebook that Mishra had given me. Even though it could never be proved, I wanted to know, and be able to remember.
As the midday sun rose high in the sky, the heat began to make me sleepy, and Shayt insisted I get some rest. I had another surprise awaiting me, as she sang a soft lullaby to me, crooning into my ear until sleep took me completely.
I awoke to the feel of lips on my throat, and hands kneeding my breasts. Even half asleep I could feel the urgency in Shayt's touch, the need in her kisses. I responded by guiding her mouth to mine, and teasing her tongue with my own. In her haste to get my clothes off I heard the rip of material. I didn't care, wanting only to feel her skin against mine. It took longer to get our breeches off, but soon they were gone, and I had the taste of that smooth skin in my mouth again.
She was relentless in her love then. Time and time again she would bring me to the heights of ecstasy, and before I could fall she'd be pulling me back, moving away from her previous place of assault to find another spot that inflamed my senses.
When she finally let me fall, I was begging and pleading, tears on my cheeks. I had to bite hard into her shoulder to stop myself from screaming. With anyone else, the skin would have broken, but with Shayt I didn't even leave marks.
I wanted so badly to slip back into the lassitude of sleep, but Mishra began knocking, telling us that we would be pulling into Cairo in just a few minutes. I groaned, not wanting to move. Shayt laughed, and kissed me before sitting up, drawing me with her.
"Come on, little one. There's always the bed in the hotel."
Shayt's excitement at drawing close to her goal was transforming into sexual desire, and I was the focus.
Not that I minded, really.
Being back in Cairo was a little strange. Things looked familiar, but it had all changed. Or maybe it was just that I had changed, or my circumstances had. I wasn't sure which.
We were at a hotel near the marketplace, and I stared out the window towards the place I had lived for so long. I realized that I wanted to return. Not because there was anyone there that I wanted to see -- there wasn't. Instead, I wanted to say goodbye to that part of my life. I needed to show myself that I was not that street urchin anymore.
Shayt seemed to understand. She gave me a small purse with money in it, and said not to worry about spending it. Asking Mishra to accompany us, we set out on foot.
I sniffed the air as we walked. It was as I remembered, with the scent of rotting garbage and sweaty bodies hanging over the strong odor of horse manure. The sounds of wagons, rickshaws, and shouting vendors was just as familiar. I recognized various people, some of which had been victims of my thievery, others which had been the closest thing to friends.
There was almost no recognition in their eyes, and that stung for a few moments. But I didn't tell them who I was.
Before, if I had been coming around certain booths, I would have been run off by the vendor. Now, however, I stood and examined the merchandise they offered for sale. No one bothered me.
The longer we stayed, the more comfortable I became. Shayt would catch me eyeing some item, and offer to buy it, or give me extra money for it. Most of the time I just smiled and shook my head, but I did let her talk me into buying a couple of silk shirts that she said went well with my green eyes.
I realized, though, that I was still looking at the merchandise in terms of how easy it would be to steal, and how much money or food I could get for it. As I fingered a jeweled buckle, the urge to shove it into a pocket was almost overwhelming. It was something that would have fed me for a week or more when I lived on the streets.
I put it down and moved quickly away, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. For a moment it had been as if nothing had changed, and I was still the street rat. The knowledge that those instincts were still a large part of me was frightening.
As we neared the food vendors, I could smell the falafels cooking, and my mouth watered. I looked longingly at the gatayefs, small pancakes that were stuffed with nuts and cheese. I could almost taste the rich syrup that covered them.
Shayt saw where my attention was focused and gently took my arm, pulling me towards the food vendor. Before I could protest, she had gotten snacks for each of us. I bit into mine with relish, savoring the taste.
The best part about it was knowing I hadn't stolen it.
Mishra asked where Shayt and I had met. I could feel my face turn red as Shayt laughed.
"Daryl could show you. It's not far from here."
I grumbled, but agreed. I led her through the space between booths, and showed her the wall.
"I was climbing the wall and slipped. Shayt caught me. I thought I was dead."
"She caught you? As you fell?"
"Then what happened?"
I shrugged. "I fainted in her arms. Seemed like a good idea at the time."
"It's not that funny, Mishra."
"It most certainly is. What a portent of things to come." She tilted her head and grinned at me, then winked. I blushed hotly as I realized she was right.
It was only the first of many times that I would sleep while wrapped in Shayt's arms.
As we headed back to where Shayt was waiting for us, I noticed two familiar faces in the crowd. Usi and his sister Urbi were twins who'd ended up in the market when their parents died in an influeza epidemic just two years ago. At first Urbi had been a prostitute, allowing herself to be used for money. Usi put a stop to that when she became pregnant and miscarried. Being only sixteen at the time, she had barely survived.
Now they made a living selling simple wood carvings and picking pockets.
I noticed that they were eyeing Shayt as she stood against a wooden post at a vendor's stall. Urbi went one way, and Usi the other. I could tell that they were about to try for Shayt's wallet, which many people had seen was thick with money. Their usual routine was to 'pretend' to meet near their intended mark, and then stage an argument which would end with Usi dragging his sister off in the direction of their victim. She would stumble against the person, knocking them down, and as she and Usi helped him or her back up, Urbi would pick the unsuspecting victim's pockets.
I reached Shayt's side just as the twins went into their yelling routine not six feet away.
Slipping past her, I moved into the two of them, and the three of us went down.
There was a moment of shocked recognition as Urbi looked into my eyes, but she said nothing. I stood up and brushed myself off, assuring the people around me that I was fine. Usi tugged on his sister's arm, and they made their way through the crowd. I saw Urbi turn and look at me once more before the two of them disappeared among the throngs of people.
"Are you all right?" Shayt asked quietly.
"Yes, I'm fine." I brushed more dust from my pants.
"That was a very kind thing you just did, Daryl," Mishra said.
I shook my head. "Not really. It's just that if they take it from me, they don't have to try someone else and maybe get caught."
Mishra took my arm. "You gave them something more than you think, Daryl. Not only the money, but their dignity, and a chance to start over."
I raised an eyebrow at her. "What do you mean, start over?"
She smiled back at me. "I know how much Shayt put into that pouch. And so do you."
I held her eyes for a moment more, then dropped my own to the ground.
I knew exactly how much money
Shayt had given me.
There was one more place that I needed to visit before we left the area. Walking quickly through the maze of streets, I found myself in the place I had lived for my last several months on the street: a hole underneath the back porch of a tailor shop.
It was obvious someone had moved into it, and I wasn't surprised. Even when I was here everyday I had often had to fight off one or another of the street beggars in order to sleep there. The only reason I won was because no one ever expected a little girl like me to fight dirty, with kicks and bites and punches to the crotch. My dad had taught me that. It was one lesson he drilled into me early. There's a difference between sparring and fighting, he said. One can get you a black eye, the other can get you dead. If you're fighting for real, do whatever you have to to win. And I always had.
I was still staring at the space when I heard Shayt clear her throat. She put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently.
"This is no longer your home, Daryl.
I had finally lived up to my nickname here. They had called me Monifa, Lucky. And meeting Shayt had indeed been pure luck.
I thought about how my life had changed. Just now, for the sake of Urbi and Usi, I had let go of more money than I had seen in all the years before I met Shayt.
As we walked away I smiled, knowing I was leaving the thief behind as well.
But I couldn't sleep. There was just too much going on in my head.
I lay in Shayt's arms listening to her breathing. She seemed much calmer tonight. Almost peaceful. I wondered if it was because she'd worn herself out on the train, or if it was because she was getting closer to her goal.
"What do you think will happen when you die?"
There was absolute silence in our room. I saw her eyes open, glinting in the moonlight from the open windows.
"What brought that on?"
"I don't know. Just thinking."
She shifted under me until she was flat on her back. I slid partly off her body and rested on my forearms as I watched her face.
"I'm not sure." She frowned. "I asked Bes a long time ago what happens when people die, and he told me it depends on their beliefs, and the darkness in their soul."
"What else did he say?"
"Well," she took a deep breath, "he told me that most people go through two judgments -- the first to decide whether or not they have a good soul. If they do, they go to a second judgment which decides what lessons, if any, they still need to learn. Those that have learned what they needed go on to the afterlife. Those that haven't, are returned to earth to live another life."
"And those that don't have a good soul?"
She shrugged. "I'm not sure. He was very vague in his statements about evil." Shayt rolled over onto her side, leaning on her elbow. "He did remind me that no human soul is ever beyond redemption. Humans are incapable of being either completely good or completely evil. So, even the darkest souls are sometimes returned to earth."
"And you? Did he ever tell you what would happen to you? Or did you not tell him what you were planning?"
Shayt looked down for a moment, her fingers playing with the sheet. "I told him. I had to. It's never a good idea to keep secrets from a god. Besides, to get the third part of the compass, I had to tell him."
A memory flashed in my mind, and I saw something golden in her hands as she stood before Bes in the heart of the temple.
"I think I remember that. It seemed like part of my dream -- that turned out not to be a dream."
Smiling, she nodded. "Right. The compass was hidden inside the statue of Bes that stood in the inner sanctum. I couldn't get it without his permission."
I frowned. "Why not? I mean, it's just a statue. How would he have known?"
"It's hard to explain. The easiest way to put it is that there are two kinds of statues. Those that are simple representations of the gods, and those that are vessels for the gods. The statue in the inner sanctum is a vessel."
"Mandisa mentioned something about vessels, but I didn't understand her."
She sat up completely, wrapping her ams around me. "Do you remember the story of Athena's birth?"
I glared at her. "You're not going to tell me she really sprang from Zeus's head, fully grown, are you?"
Shayt laughed. "Well, I wasn't there, but no, I don't think it's true. But, do you remember why she was birthed from Zeus in the first place?"
"Um, no. I don't think so."
"Well, her mother, who was a mortal, asked Zeus to grant a request. Zeus agreed, and she asked that he appear to her as a god, in his true form. Zeus begged her not to ask that, as the true form of a god is like white fire and would burn her. She insisted, and he appeared before her. She was engulfed in flame and burned to death, but Zeus snatched Athena from the flames and sewed her up inside himself."
"It's not true, is it?"
"Any of it?"
She shrugged. "I doubt the actual story, but it is true that gods are more energy than substance. The Greek gods were willing to appear in a more human form, but they used carefully concocted spells to make those bodies. Our gods, like Bes, Anubis, Sakhmet, and Horus were less willing to expend energy creating what appeared to be human bodies. Instead, they allowed their followers to build vessels for them to fill. Now, the large monuments, like Karnak, were just that. Monuments, honoring the gods. But the smaller statues inside the temples, like those in the sanctuaries of Pharaoh's temples, were dedicated to the gods. They were used like bodies, filled with the god's spirit and energy when he or she wished to speak with their followers."
"So, if you had just taken the compass from the statue it would have been a violation of the god's body."
I yawned, finally feeling a little sleepy. "So, Bes knows what you're planning?" She nodded. "Does he approve?"
She frowned. "Well, no, not really. It seems almost like he doesn't believe I'll really do it."
"Did he say that?"
"No. It's just the feeling I get." She layed back down, taking me with her. "I did get him to promise that he won't interfere."
"You think he'll keep his word?"
"A god must keep his word. It's the only thing that binds his worshippers to him, and gods need to be worshipped. It gives them more energy."
Another yawn stole over me, and this time I couldn't keep from closing my eyes. "So he won't interfere. I, um, guess that's good."
She looked down at me. "Having second thoughts, Daryl? You could stay here if you want. Mishra and Achmed could come back for you after it's over."
"No, no, I'm fine. I want to be there. Really."
She gave me a half smile and kissed my forehead. "Sleep, then. It'll be another early morning."
"Right." I let my eyes close again. And another late night tomorrow. My last night with you, and I won't sleep at all.....
The first several hours went well, since we were still on roads. None of them were paved outside of a few in Cairo, but at least they were fairly smooth. Then we turned off the roads and crossed the dunes.
Sand flew in my face and stung my eyelids. I tried hard to breathe through the scarf that Shayt had made me tie over my mouth and nose. The truck kept bouncing up and down, and the sweat caused by the severe heat would fly into my eyes every time I opened them.
Shayt called a halt just after midday. I was glad, since my stomach had begun to threaten rebellion.
Together, we sat in the shade of the truck and she watched as I drank from a bota bag.
"Daryl, are you sure you're up for this? Tomorrow is just going to be hotter."
"Yeah, but tomorrow we'll be on camels. They don't go as fast as the truck, and they don't bounce up and down quite as much, so my stomach should be okay." I smiled at her. "I'll be fine."
"You know, you could stay --"
"Shayt." She stopped and looked at me. "Don't try to talk me into leaving your side. I won't do it. I intend to hold onto you until the very last minute."
Her face colored slightly, and her eyes dropped. Finally, she nodded.
She never asked me that again.
Two hours later the truck coughed to a halt outside a line of rock outcroppings. We were an hours drive west of Memphis, just south of Saqqara, and there were many tombs in this area, most of them non-royal. The one we were looking for had been deemed that of a wealthy merchant's wife, or perhaps a courtier of Pharaoh.
Shayt said she knew that was wrong because she had helped to bury the queen that had lain within.
"Sobeknefru wasn't a very popular queen, and there weren't many riches in the tomb. The carvings and other preparations weren't even near completion when she died."
"How did she die?" I asked as we walked up the slight incline to the entrance of the tomb.
The princess squinted in the sunlight as she looked across the sands. "Well, I can't prove it, but I had reason to believe she was murdered. Poisoned, I think."
She shrugged. "Didn't matter. She wasn't a very good queen. I was one of her advisers for awhile, but she wouldn't even listen to me. Her taxes became so overwhelming that the people refused to pay them. Then she ordered the army into a battle that everyone told her she couldn't win. Those that were loyal to her went, and were destroyed. The rest rebelled, intending to kill the queen. But she was dead before they got there."
"And you helped bury her?"
"Yes. We got word that the army, led by one of her top generals, was marching on Memphis. We had just enough time to complete the basic rituals for mummification, and nothing else. There was none of the pomp and circumstance normally associated with a Pharaoh's burial. Six of us carried her sarcophagus into the tomb. The others left while I did the final spells, and when I was finished, I made sure a rockslide covered the entrance to the tomb. It was pure luck that it was found in 1910."
"You put spells on the tomb? What kind?"
"Just things to protect it. To prevent robbers from finding it -- anyone who meant the to do harm to the tomb or the one within." She dropped her eyes and scuffed at the ground. "I also had to complete the spell that allowed the compass to point to the hidden temple. The original plan was that I would leave the compass in the tomb, but I chose to take it with me, in case something happened and the tomb was discovered."
"And then you split the compass up and put it in the three statues?"
"Why did you need the compass? Don't you remember the place?"
She looked at me. "After thirty-three hundred years, not even my memory is perfect." Another shrug. "I made sure the sands of the desert completely covered the temple where I had been transformed. I knew it had to remain secret, as the sacred texts of Bastet would be kept there, along with the dagger of Sakhmet. So, I waited until everyone who had known of its location was dead. Then I made sure the place was obliterated, and nothing remained to be seen. Using spells given to me by the goddesses, I was so thorough that not even I could see where it had been. Only the compass could point to its hiding place."
We had reached the entrance, and I hung back, not sure if Shayt wanted me to go inside with her.
"Ready?" she asked.
I grinned. "Sure." I wasn't really so certain of this, but if Shayt would allow me to be with her, I wasn't going to say anything.
The ceremony was simple. There was a short stone pillar in the middle of the tomb, and within it a sconce where the compass, now complete with all three pieces, slid gently into place with a click. Shayt lit four candles and sprinkled some incense over the compass. After a few chants, which she sang in a low voice, there was a rush of wind, and three candles sputtered and died. The last one burned stronger as the needle of the compass slowly turned, pointing to the south west.
"That's it?" I asked.
Shayt gave an embarrassed shrug and grinned. "That's it. Not so difficult, hm?"
"Nope." I eyed the compass. "Okay, you know the general area that the temple is hidden in, right?"
"Then why the compass? Isn't it just going to show you the general direction?"
"For the moment, sure." Shayt relit the lantern, and blew out the candle. The compass needle never flickered. " But the needle won't stray from it's objective, and as we get to the place, it will point to the exact spot where the entrance to the temple lies beneath the sand. The compass now cannot be taken apart again until it has passed the door of the temple. After that, it will no longer point to anything."
She picked up the golden object carefully, folding it into the sack she'd been carrying it in.
"Come on. It's still a few hours to the Faiyu Oasis near Lake Moeris. We'll sleep there tonight, and the camels will take us to the temple in the morning."
I groaned. "Tell me there are roads at least?"
She put an arm around me. "Well, no, not for a few more hours yet. But don't worry. You can sit on my lap so you're not bouncing in the bed of the truck."
"Won't you be uncomfortable?"
With a grin, she said, "Nah. If you get to heavy I'll just change places with you and sit on your lap for a while."
"I don't think so, Princess."
We were laughing as we left the
tomb, but I couldn't help the pit in my stomach that was growing.
On the way to the Oasis, as the truck bumped up and down, and Shayt held me in her arms as she said she would.
I thought about what was to happen the next day. This could very well be my last night with Shayt. Unless something went wrong, she would be dead by sunset tomorrow.
Part of me was still feeling respectful of her decision. I very much understood why she wanted this neverending life to stop.
A larger part of me, however, realized that I had fallen in love with her. There was little I could do about it. And when she left me, when she picked up the blade in the tomb and left this earth, I would once again be alone.
The pit I had felt in my stomach earlier had become a chasm that I felt I was swinging over. If I did nothing, I would lose Shayt to her own death. If I chose to try to stop her, I would possibly delay her plans, but I would lose her friendship in the process. And, since I could see no real way to prevent her from reaching the temple, I would lose her anyway.
For once I was glad of the covering
over my face as it hid the tears as they slid from my eyes down my cheeks to
disappear into the cloth.
Faiyu is a small town, village really, that grew up around a small oasis just south of Lake Moeris. There was no hotel, and few buildings of any kind. Instead, Shayt's friend, Ishaq, had set up three tents to house us. Mishra and Achmed would stay in one, Ishaq and Onuris in the second, and Shayt and I in the third.
It was late when we got there; the sun was well on its way to setting. I dropped onto the cot in mine and Shayt's tent, not even wanting to move for dinner.
"Daryl? Are you alright?"
"Oh, fine. Fine." But I wasn't. Between the worry over what would happen, and the bumping of the truck, along with the stinging sand and oppressive heat, I wasn't feeling good at all. I wanted my stomach to stop hurting, and my head to stop spinning. Maybe then I would feel like moving again.
"When's the last time you had some water, love?"
I cracked an eye open at the endearment and the soft tone of Shayt's voice. Her concerned blue eyes were looking down at me as she stood next to my bed, hands on her hips.
"Um. I can't remember."
She nodded, and leaned over to touch my head. "You're not feeling good, are you? A little too much sun?"
"A little too long in the truck. I'll be okay, though."
Her fingers brushed my bangs away from my eyes. "You want to stay here? I can bring you some water and something light to eat."
"No, I'm okay." I sat up, gritting my teeth against the nausea. "Let's go."
Shayt raised an eyebrow but stood aside as I headed for the tent flap.
I stepped outside and got another
few feet before the dizziness hit. I knew I was falling, but I had no
idea which way was up. My knees hit the ground, sending up a cloud of
dust. Before I knew it, I was in Shayt's arms. I looked once more
into her eyes before everything went black.
I woke up to a pounding headache and the feel of water drops rolling across my temples. Someone was holding my hand. There was movement next to me, as someone placed a cold cloth over my forehead. Whoever's hands they were, they were shaking, and I opened my eyes just a crack to see who it was.
To my surprise, it was Shayt. And to my utter shock, she appeared to be crying.
I sighed deeply, and let my eyes open all the way. Shayt immediately leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.
"Don't scare me like that again, okay?"
I nodded very slowly. "Got it. No scaring Shayt."
She smiled at me, and wiped her eyes.
"Are you crying?"
A shake of her head. "No. Just got some sand in my eye."
"Right." My tone said I didn't believe her.
We smiled at each other, and
she squeezed my hand. She wasn't shaking anymore.
I don't think she slept that night. I didn't sleep much myself, but everytime I opened my eyes, her clear blue ones were staring back at me. By morning, I felt better, and she looked much calmer.
I thought she'd ask me to stay behind, but she didn't. Instead, she simply made me ride on her camel with her. It wasn't the most comfortable I've ever been, but it did keep me in her arms, which is where I wanted to be in the first place.
Shayt also made sure I drank a lot of water. She had some kind of canopy up over the camel, so that I wouldn't be directly in the sun. When we set off after breakfast, which she made sure I ate, I found myself much cooler than I'd been since we'd gotten off the train in Cairo.
But I still ached inside.
I'd missed my last night with Shayt. This evening when we reached the temple, she'd disappear from me forever.
"Shayt? How long will it take us to reach the temple, do you know?"
She frowned. "I'm not sure. It's quite a ways. In the trucks I would guess we'd reach it in the late afternoon, but on camelback -- I'd say right just past sunset."
I swallowed. "Shayt?"
"Will you wait till tomorrow?"
"Wait for what?"
I didn't say anthing. She looked down at me, then back up at the sands of the horizon.
"Oh." After a moment, she squeezed my shoulders a little, and nodded. "Yes, Daryl. I'll wait."
"Thank you." I leaned back and relaxed against her.
I had one more full night.
A plan started to form in my
To be continued in Part Six