I pressed my ear against the fragrant cedar-wood door, straining to hear the words on the other side.
"You say you have cured my son?" My father's voice rang with sharpness.
My pulse raced, awaiting my tutor's reply.
"Not exactly, Master Ithobaal." The physician's response held a touch of regret.
By Baal, not again! My heart plummeted to my stomach. Swallowing against the queasiness, I shut my eyes and waited for the list of stammered excuses. Ever since the demon first manifested itself six years ago, it was always the same. Every priest, magician, scribe, and healer my father hired had excuses. This latest one, an Ashurite physician had been working with me for nearly eight months, longer than all the others.
"It is like this, sir." The physician's tone remained steady. "The child is not possessed by a demon."
No demon? I pressed my ear harder against the door.
"Of course there is a demon! It killed his mother and made him an idiot."
The physician sighed. "The boy speaks Fenkhu, Hittite, and Kamtiu fluently, and is well on his way to mastering Hurrian and Akkadian."
"You think I do not know this?" My father was shouting. "I am a merchant, as was my father and my father's father. The cedars of Gubal are this family's life-blood. My son will be a merchant, too, and for this, he must speak and read and write. He will not be beholden to any scribe."
My father's words came with such force, I stumbled away from the door. Spells, painted in various languages scrawled across its surface. Get back, O foul creature. Do not pass in the name of Baal. I bumped into the small chair by the writing table behind me. Its back dug into my skin and rattled the table, sending slips of papyrus scattering on the floor—including the physician's copy of the opening lines of The Battle of Kadesh and my own half-finished attempt of it.
Five oil lamps on the ceiling lit my path. Seven paces around one half of the table; seven more to complete the circle. The year before, I had counted ten each way.
I passed under one of the hanging lamps, wincing. If I grew another half-cubit, it would surely strike my head.
Sinking down into the chair, I considered the physician's words. Not possessed? Could it be? I turned my gaze to the mat-covered window. If there was no demon, the matting would go away; no more spells, low-hanging lamps, or locked room.
Out in the hall, a smack, a thud, hurried footsteps, a scuffling sound, then silence.
What had happened? Was my father sending the physician away as he had done with the others?
I returned to the door, its multi-script spells glaring at me. My foot brushed against papyrus, and I bent down to pick up the sheet. If my father came in, and saw the mess on the floor I'd be in for a tongue-lashing or worse. My skin prickling at the possibility, I gathered up the sheets and placed them back on the table. The physician's work rested on top.
In the fifth year of his reign,
Usermaatra rode out to gain
The town of Kadesh from Hittite sword.
By will of Amun-Ra, he would be its lord.
Usermaatra, the greatest of heroes, Pharaoh of Kamt, he whom kings feared. He had married the most beautiful woman in the world, Nefertari of the cedar-wood eyes. Usermaatra, who wouldn't be sitting in his room doing nothing.
Footsteps rang in the hall, then faded. I tossed the papyrus slips back on the table between the half-empty ink pots and went to the window.
Ropes tied to bolts in the wall held the matting in place. I loosened them, wriggled behind the matting, and leaned out the window. Soon, like all the others, the physician would step out into the sprawling courtyard below and march across the white paving stones and through the bronze gates into the world behind the thick enclosure walls.
The deep green heads of cedars and flat-roofed estates peered above the walls. Birds soared through the sky. If only I could fly away or—
I glanced down, considering the distance between the window and the ground. Of course! Climb out. Maybe I could get a foothold on the stones; make my way down, and slip out with the physician as he left.
As I put one leg over the ledge, my insides fluttered.
No. Usermaatra wouldn't falter.
There on the plains, surrounded by the foe
He called out to Father Amun-Ra in time of woe.
Taking a deep breath, I tilted my head to the heavens, where shades of blue gave way to gray. Amun-Ra, the Kamtiu God of the Sun, had dwindled to wisps of pinks, reds, and purples along the horizon. Above, only the pale eye of the moon stared down.
The Kamtiu gave a name to Him, too. What was it?
I returned to the papyrus slips and sorted through them. One had to have the information I needed.
Here, yes! The Kamtiu Litany of Gods. I whispered the words out loud until I found the name I needed: Thuti Moon-Lord, Divine Scribe and Magician. Now, would He hear me?
I gazed at the blackening sky. The Sun-Lord had burned brightly all day, and the stone of the window ledge warmed my hands.I fixed my gaze on the moon—on Him—sat on the window ledge, and let my legs dangle over the side. "Be with me, Thuti, noble ibis. Be with me and give me strength."
As I repeated it over and over, a ripple crossed the face of the moon. A white halo of light surrounded it and washed over the sky with the speed of a lightning flash.
I gripped the window ledge, unmoving, not daring to blink or even breathe. My chest began to ache, and the queasiness came back. Gagging, I clamped a hand over my mouth and swallowed hard.
"Heh, heh, heh!"
The sound assailed me, banishing my nausea. Who laughed?
I scanned the darkened courtyard. There, in the center of the yard a large bird pecked at the paving stones. Its body was like a duck's, its feathers white as the stones. It waddled toward the building on long reedy legs, bobbing its head and snapping its sickle-moon beak.
"Heh, heh, heh." It turned its head my way, fixing me with pebbly eyes.
Night shadows stirred in the courtyard. Someone came out of the house and made his way to the gate. The physician at last.
Wait, no, not he. This man's head was completely shaven, the rest of him clad in a stark white tunic that hung to his knees. By Baal! He, too, almost blended in with the stones. Was he a servant? A friend of my father?
The strange bird let out another laugh-like call as the man passed, but it did not fly away. Instead it cocked its head and turned to him, its head slightly higher than the man's knee.
The man paused in mid-stride and glanced back at the estate. He gazed upward, his eyes as yellow as full moons.
I held my breath. Would he call my father?
His lips parted in a smile. "Good evening to you, boy. How do you fare?" He spoke in the smooth Fenkhu of my people with only a hint of a throaty accent.
I swallowed hard. "Fine, sir." My heart throbbed one thought: Beware, beware, someone might hear.
"Oh, come now!" The man waved a hand in the air as if dismissing my words. "You expect me to believe that? Why are you up there instead of down here enjoying the eve? It will cool off once the moon gets brighter." He pointed to the sky.
I nodded. "I'm coming down." I scooted a little closer to the edge.
"No, no, not that way!" The man waved both arms this time. "Unless you want broken bones."
I winced. "Then how, sir?"
The man rubbed his chin, which was as clean-shaven as his head. "Come, come. You're a clever boy. Surely you can think of something."
I stared at him. "Who are you, sir?"
"You already know my name, boy. You called me."
I opened my mouth, but no reply came out. Lord Thuti! Memory whirled with tales of Kamt: the magic, the gold, the gods, Lord Usermaatra. But when Usermaatra called upon Amun-Ra, the god had given him the strength of a thousand lions. My shoulders slumped. Maybe my prayer wasn't answered after all.
"No sulking, boy." The god's voice soared up to me on a cooling breeze. "Think, think, think. What can you do?"
I shook my head. "Nothing! That's why you've got to help me out of here!" I slapped my hands against the ledge, sending several slips of papyrus into the courtyard below.
Lord Thuti scowled, and the bird snapped up a papyrus slip in its beak and held it up to him. The god examined the slip, then turned his gaze back to me. "Did you write this?"
I bowed my head. "Yes." Bad enough for my father and my tutors to see my awful work, but a god . . .
"Ah, so you can do something." He pursed his lips and blew on the papyrus. The slip sailed up to me, slapping into my chest. "Use what you know, boy, and Lady Sit-Thuti of Waset will help you."
"The last in a long line of Kamtiu scribes." Lord Thuti grinned. "And a magician, too. Your father will like that, eh?" He arched an eyebrow, then hunkered down and patted the head of the odd bird.
"Heh, heh, heh." The creature bobbed its head.
A low moan came from behind me. By Baal! Had my father come back? My pulse thundering in my ears, I ducked out of the window and re-secured the fastening. But no one was there.
I hurried back to the window. "Lord Thuti!"
No reply. The man and his bird were gone.
I crept over to my pallet, flung myself down upon it, and cried. Lord Thuti's words lingered in my thoughts, chiding me over and over: You're a clever boy. . . Think, think, think.
I lay awake all night on the pallet in the corner of my room, thinking. Darkness eventually brightened to gray. The ceiling lamps were out, as they had been when I went to bed. I scowled into the gloom. What could I do?
Write to this Sit-Thuti? In my vulture scratch? Even if I did, why would she come? She didn't know me . . .
I shifted my gaze to the mat-covered window and thought of the world that window overlooked. By Baal, Thuti, and Amun-Ra, I had to get out into it. Lady Sit-Thuti might not come if I—a Fenkhu nobody—asked. But maybe a fellow countryman, a fellow scribe.
I scrambled out of bed and rushed to the table. Rifling through the remaining papyrus slips, I found a blank one. Then I seized a reed pen and ink pot. By the time servants came with the morning meal, I had finished.
Greetings, to Lady Sit-Thuti from the Royal Scribe Amunemopet. Amunemopet meant "the god Amun is in festival," and was in fact the name of a Kamtiu merchant my father did business with. I write from Gubal in the Fenkhu-lands and request your help in a matter of great urgency. Your work among our people is known to me. I dare trust no other. Come with haste to the house of Ithobaal the merchant.
Some letters were squeezed together, others farther apart; yet, in the past I had done worse. By the time I'd finished eating, the ink was dry. I picked up the sheet, rolled it up, and tucked it under my pillow.
When night came and the moon reclaimed the sky, I took the letter and wriggled beneath the matting. "Come to me, Thuti, noble ibis. Come to me and take my letter to Lady Sit-Thuti in Waset."
The surface of the moon rippled.
"Heh, heh, heh!"
Lord Thuti's bird had appeared on the window ledge, with a cord draped around its neck. Taking the cord, I tied it around the letter and fastened it around the bird's neck. The creature bobbed its head twice, as if assuring me of safe delivery, then spread its wings and flew off into the night.
Night passed into morning, morning to noon, and noon back into night. Another day followed.
The days grew into one month, then two, then three.
One afternoon, I was practicing my letters when a servant's voice sailed up from the courtyard. "Master Ithobaal, come quickly!"
The reed pen slipped from my grasp, and I stared at the door. Could it be Lady Sit-Thuti?
My father's voice reached my ears, his words too garbled to make out. Another voice responded, softer, lighter, but not any clearer. I strained my ears for further sounds: more voices, an opening door, footsteps against paving stones.
Curiosity brought life back into my arms and legs. I hurried to the window and slid beneath the matting. Squinting out into the brightness, I searched for them, but only paving stones met my eyes. Perhaps this Sit-Thuti had cast a spell and my father was—
"Bazer!" My father's voice struck from behind.
I bolted away from the mat and scurried back to the table. He came to me, glaring down, his mouth twisted in its familiar scowl.
Someone else moved beside him, a slim, small-boned figure with hair so dark it was almost black. She came closer, the fabric of her white dress rippling at the movement, and the beads on the ends of her many shoulder-length braids clicking together. Her skin bore the dusky tinge of many days under the sun. Fine lines fanned out beneath her eyes and gathered at the corners of her lips. She flicked her gaze from me to my father. "Sir, I am here to see the scribe Amunemopet—"
My father turned to her and spoke in Kamtiu. "Lady, I do not know this scribe. But you are a magician, yes? Perhaps you could help my son. My only one." He gestured to me, then jabbed a finger and the empty chair. "Sit, Bazer!"
Bazer. That's what I'd become. Not Servant of Baal anymore, just servant.
I did as he ordered.
My father snatched up the pen, dipped it in ink, and forced it into my hand. "Write! In Kamtiu!" He faced Lady Sit-Thuti. "Recite something."
The lady folded her arms and arched her finely sculpted eyebrows at my father. "And you are who?" Her voice took on the hardness of stone, making my pulse quicken. Year after year of tutors—priests, scribes, magicians from every land—yet not one had spoken to my father like this. "Are you Pharaoh to be giving me orders?"
My father lowered his eyes. "Please, Mistress." He slipped into Fenkhu. "Please, let him write. A demon is within him."
Stiffening, the lady took a step back and reached for an amulet hanging around her neck.
My father moved toward her, hands outstretched. "You will see."
The lady tilted her head to one side. She took a step—forward this time, not back. Eyes the color of cedar bark studied my face from brow to chin. Could she help me?
My father nodded to her. "Please, recite."
Moving to my side, she did as he asked. "'Come to me, O Thuti, O noble ibis.'" Her words brushed my ears.
I tightened my grip on the pen and began to write, forming each letter, each precious word. No mistakes this time; I'd prove myself worthy.
"'Come to me and give me counsel.'"
The lines shook and twisted, more like slithering serpents than letters. I gritted my teeth, grasped the pen even tighter, dipped it into the ink pot. This time, this word would be perfect.
"'Make me skillful in your calling.'" She finished her recitation, and I completed my writing: the squiggles, the shapes—some big, some small, some going up, some angling down. The accursed demon! It seized my hand every time I tried to write.
When my father snatched the papyrus slip from the table, I folded my hands and waited.
"The demon shows itself. See?" He plunged on with the usual story: the demon possessed me from birth, killed my mother, made me an idiot. "I pray to gods. I buy spells. I call physicians, priests, scribes. All fail."
Fail. That single word filled the room, coming down upon me like a mace. I hunched over the table and clamped my hands over my ears. Fail. Failure. Me.
"And this . . . only sign . . . demon?" Fragments of the lady's response crept beneath my palms. "No fever, no rash?"
I raised my head.
The lady was frowning. Her eyes scanned the room. What did she see?
She turned to my father. "I require a jar of water and a cup."
My father gave a curt nod. "You shall have them." Without another glance at me, he marched toward the door.
It swung shut with a thud. My eyes scrunched shut. Something scraped against the floor. The demon coming out at last?
What was 'Bay'? Was it part of a spell?
My eyes opened. Lady Sit-Thuti had settled on a chair beside me and watched me, her face expressionless. An old servant hobbled into the room, set a jar and cup upon the table, and left us. The slamming of the door, the groaning of a bar sliding into place. My father had locked us in.
Lady Sit-Thuti tensed and glared at the door. After several heartbeats she sighed. "Bay." She turned to me.
Me. She meant me.
"I'm going to do some magic."
Magic? I sat up, my eyes fixed on her. Like the magic of Kamt that made Lord Usermaatra so brave and his Nefertari so beautiful? I scooted my chair over so it touched hers.
She picked up a sheet of papyrus and the pen, then pulled the ink pot closer to her. "I'm going to write down a spell. I will also be saying it out loud, so I need you to be very quiet. If I make the slightest mistake, we'll both regret it. Do you understand?"
Lady Sit-Thuti began to write. "Get back! Retreat, O dangerous one, in the name of Thuti, Lord of Magic."
My gaze traveled to her age-and-time-lined hands. How steady they were, how easily they wrote. Stroke up, stroke down, and across, each line straight, smooth, perfect.
My heart raced up to my throat. "I wish I could write like that! Teach me, please."
She smiled at me, a ray of sunlight in the torch-lit gloom. "It would seem that's why I'm here." She reached for the jug and the cup and set them between us. "Let me tell you a story. See here?" She held up her amulet.
It shimmered like the sun itself, if the sun could turn to honey and still shine. I reached out, and she let me touch it. "Is it real gold, Lady?"
"Yes." She tapped her amulet and turned it around. The picture-script of the Kamtiu covered the back. "See the inscription?"
As Lady Sit-Thuti pointed to the writing on the back of the amulet, another shiny object stole my attention: a simple band wrapped around the third finger of her right hand. It shone with a different light, a paler light, like that of stars.
"This is the name of a famous servant of Lord Thuti: Djadjaemankh." Her voice drew me back to the amulet. "A thousand years ago he came to the aid of the Lord of the Two Lands. One of the royal wives had lost a piece of gold in the river. Djadjaemankh stood on the riverbank and chanted a spell." Picking up the jar, she poured the water into the cup.
Her hands, those sun-baked, fine-lined hands were working magic. The lamp flames reflected in her starlight ring, revealing carefully formed lines on its surface.
Lady Sit-Thuti sat back in her chair. "Get back, O waters! In the name of Lord Thuti, rise up!"
I turned all my attention to the cup. A single drop of water rose from it. Soon a second droplet joined its brother, and so on and so on, until a silvery cloud hovered before me. I held my breath, lest a simple puff of air might ruin everything.
"So."Lady Sit-Thuti lowered her voice. "The wife was able to retrieve her charm. And then—" With a snap of her fingers, the water slipped back into the cup.
The magic of Kamt was here, in my room, not merely in stories.
She picked up the papyrus sheet she had written on, folded it until it was half the size of her palm, and placed it into the cup of water. "Sometimes the spell has to be taken in: literally swallowed." Her eyes met mine. In the cup, the water took on an inky tinge. "Do you understand?"
I swallowed hard. "Yes, Lady."
With a faint smile, she pulled out the slip of papyrus.
Taking the cup, I downed its contents in two gulps.
Lady Sit-Thuti remained beside me as heartbeats stretched into moments and moments crawled toward an hour. "We have to wait. Spells take time, Bay."
"How much time?" Aside from the acrid taste lingering in my mouth, I sensed no change within me. My pulse remained steady as did my breaths. Surely a demon leaving my body would produce some kind of effect.
"How much time?" Lady Sit-Thuti drummed her fingers against the tabletop. "Difficult to say. Demons are different; people are different. We will have to wait and watch for signs."
"What signs?" I stared into her cedar-brown eyes.
She regarded me for several heartbeats, her body quaking with silent laughter. "So many questions! I will tell you when I see them." She rested her hands on the table, fingers spread out. Torchlight glimmered off her ring, illuminating the lines.
It had to be writing. But what kind? My tutors had taught me so many. I leaned closer to her. Where had I seen that type of writing? Not in the Tales of Usermaatra. In a hymn to Baal or the Sun-Goddess of Arinna?
Arinna. Part of Hatti-land. Yes, that was it, the script of Hatti-land: Hittite.
I squinted at the engraving. Was it another spell? Khamunzu. No, wait—Dakhamunzu. Not a spell or even a name, but a title: Great Royal Wife, in other words, the wife of a king. The king of Hatti?
No, Kamtiu women never married rulers of foreign lands. The world might team with princes, chieftains, lords, but Pharaoh remained forever above them. Pharaoh did not give; he received, and the only Kamtiu woman worthy to be called Dakhamunzu would be—
Pharaoh's wife, like Nefertari of the cedar-wood eyes,
For her alone Ra Sun-Lord would rise.
Nefertari of the night-black hair,
Her smile drives demons back to their lair.
Something hissed. The demon? No, only me drawing a breath. Folding my hands upon the table, I drew back and studied Lady Sit-Thuti anew. How could she be Dakhamunzu with her sun-baked skin and lined face? Pharaoh's wife had fanbearers to shade her from the sun, the wisest physicians to keep her forever young. She did not travel outside of Kamt, nor did she work with her hands.
But how to explain the ring? If she was not Pharaoh's wife, how had she gotten it? A gift from the royal house for some service? Did she serve Pharaoh's wife, perhaps write things in the Great Royal Wife's name? She was a scribe, after all. A scribe with eyes the color of cedar wood.
Like the Great Wife Nefertari, For her alone Ra Sun-Lord would rise . . . But Nefertari had died eight years ago.
I shook the thoughts away. No Great Royal Wife would become a mere scribe. A dead woman could not—did not sit beside me.
But that ring and the inscription . . .
Lady Sit-Thuti raised a single eyebrow, and I tensed. Could she read my thoughts? Or maybe—
I met her gaze. "Is the demon gone?"
"Only one way to tell." She reached for a sheet of papyrus and placed it in front of me. "Try the prayer to Lord Thuti again."
Hope pulsing through my vein, I snatched up the pen and dipped it in ink. This time it would work; this time I would be free. I put pen to papyrus, envisioned the words in my heart—Come to me O Thuti, O noble ibis—and wrote.
Up, down, left, right, squiggle, scratch, too big, too small. No! Nothing had changed; same as before. Even the magic of Kamt had failed me. I flung the pen away, my future clear: Ithobaal's son, the idiot, the failure, unworthy to serve any god. "It's not fair!" My hands curled into fists and slammed against the table.
"Bay, calm yourself." Lady Sit-Thuti's voice remained even.
Easy for her; her writing didn't come out like vulture scratch. I hit the table again. "My name's not Bay; it's Baalbazer."
Lady Sit-Thuti drew back. "Forgive me." Then she frowned. "I thought your father said—"
I grimaced. "My father said, 'Bazer.'"
"Is that what he calls you?" Her brow furrowed and her expression hardened. "Servant?"
"I'm not good enough to serve a god." I raised my head to Lady Sit-Thuti. "But I want to be. I know how the words should look here." I placed a hand over my heart. "But they get mixed up between here—" I brought my hand to my eyes. "—and here." I pounded my right hand on the table.
Tears rolled down my face, though I fought against them.A whimper, then gasps. Something clutched at my chest. My body trembled as if it would never stop. The demon? Was it coming out or—? What did it matter now? Let it kill me as it had killed my mother. Better that than a lifetime of my son, the idiot.
A hand brushed the back of my neck, and arms wrapped around me. My face pressed against cloth. "Hush. Lines in ink are not worth so much grief."
Lady Sit-Thuti? At the sound of her voice, I stopped shaking, and the tightness in my chest eased. One last tear trickled down my face, and she wiped it away with her fingers.
I raised my head. She was kneeling beside my chair, her gaze shadowed with concern, the right sleeve of her gown damp from my tears. Lady Sit-Thuti had held me close, something no one else had ever done.
When I sniffled, she ran a hand through my hair. "Poor dear. I will call you Baalbazer from now on. Names are powerful things and should not be changed without good reason."
I considered her words, true enough as they were. If I had used a wrong name when I'd called for Lord Thuti, something other than the moon-god might have shown up. Then a thought occurred to me. "What about the spell? Did you write my name wrong?"
Lady Sit-Thuti shook her head. "The names in my spell were those of demon-mastering gods. They would have come if a demon had been here. We must try something else." She retrieved the pen, which had fallen on the floor, and gave it to me. "I want you to write. Slowly this time."
Taking a deep breath, I obeyed. Come—to—me—O—Thuti—O—noble—ibis. Letters, words, one after the other, until I finished the first line.
Lady Sit-Thuti rose, examined the paper, and placed it back on the table before me. "See?" She pointed to my first attempt and then to my second.
I studied them, the first rough and uneven, the second a little shaky but clearer, much clearer. Smiling I turned to her. "It is better! The spell worked!"
But Lady Sit-Thuti frowned, and my smile faded.
"It did work, Lady?" A coldness settled in my stomach.
Her eyes flicked to the papyrus. "If there was a demon, it should be gone. I haven't felt it leave." Her frown deepened, bringing wrinkles to her forehead. She glanced at me, then at my writing. Reaching for a small pouch on her belt, she pulled out a slip of papyrus. She set the slip on the table next to my writing.
My heart throbbed in my ears. The slip of papyrus she pulled out—was it the one? Did she see? Did she know?
A low groan, followed by the creak of an opening door warned me my father had returned. "Well?" He stood in the doorway, black bangs over obsidian eyes, squarish jaw, arms folded across his chest. "The demon is gone?"
Lady Sit-Thuti raised her head and met his glare. "In a manner of speaking, yes." She picked up both pieces of papyrus. "You see, there never was—"
No!I reached for her, grasped her sleeve, but the fabric slipped from my fingers. By Baal, if she told my father the same thing my last tutor had, he'd make her disappear, too, and I'd be stuck here. Probably forever.
I jumped out of my chair and seized her hand. "No, Lady!" I kept my voice at a whisper. "Please. He won't believe you."
"Never was?" My father's face twisted into an all-too-familiar scowl. "There was a demon. You did magic and now it is gone?"
Lady Sit-Thuti heaved a sigh. "No, I said—"
"Stop, please!"My words were so soft, could she even hear them? If only I were a magician, if I had a spell. A glimmer of light caught my eye: lamp light reflecting in her silver ring, a ring that might have been a token of royal favor or something stolen from—
"Dakhamunzu" I put much force into the word as I dared while keeping my voice low.
She tensed and turned to me.
My father moved toward us. "Lady."
Lady Sit-Thuti held up a hand. "May I speak to your son alone?"
With a sharp nod, my father left, closing the door behind him. The groan of the bar did not come. Not locked, so he had not gone far.
"Well, Baalbazer, do you think you know something about me?" Lady Sit-Thuti lowered her voice. Nevertheless, her tone had an edge to it. She retrieved one of the papyrus slips from the table and held it out to me. "What are you really, royal scribe Amunemopet?"
A lump settled in my throat. I had lied—impersonated a royal scribe. And now she knew.
Her cedar eyes fixed on me, unwavering. Cedar eyes, just like in the Tales of Usermaatra. And in the tales, there was only one Great Royal Wife—one Dakhamunzu, as the Hittites would've addressed her when they sued Kamt for peace. "What are you really? Lady Sit-Thuti or Nefertari?"
"How—?" She snatched her amulet, and her ring clinked against it. She stared at both, then looked at me. "You read Hittite."
I nodded. "All the Tales of Usermaatra, too."
"A collection of lies!" She frowned and turned away.
My heart raced. "Then you really are Nefertari!"
"Not anymore! I haven't used that name in eight years and I don't intend to again."
"Because Nefertari belongs in Pharaoh's court, and I'm not going back there. It's little more than an opulent prison."
"A prison." I spread out my hands, gesturing to the whole room. "This is my prison. You escaped yours."
A thunk came from behind me. Both of us turned toward the sound. The reed mat lay on the floor, and the window gaped, wide open, revealing a day-waning gray sky. A single, half-closed eye stared from the heavens, an eye as yellow as those of Lord Thuti.
Lady Sit-Thuti went to the window. "He helped you, didn't He?" She pointed at the moon.
I moved beside her. "I called Him, and I guess He answered. Mostly He asked a lot of questions."
She smiled. "That sounds like Him."
When I told her everything that happened between Lord Thuti and me and how I wrote the letter, her smile broadened. "Clever boy. You do have the makings of a scribe in you."
I might become a scribe. A scribe! At last my father would be pleased. He would not need to fuss about demons. "Lady Sit-Thuti? There really isn't a demon, is there?"
Her smile faded. "What do you think?"
Now she sounded like her god namesake.
Silence filled the room for many heartbeats, each beat urging me to find an answer. "Maybe something's wrong with my eyes or my hands." I gazed down at them. "It's easier when I write with my left, but the writing's still bad. My mother died when I was born. Could that have anything to do with it?"
Lady Sit-Thuti stroked her chin. "Possibly. Yours must have been a difficult birth. Many children don't survive such things. We must speak with your father."
I shook my head. "He won't listen. He won't let me out unless he thinks the demon is gone."
A shaft of light came into the room, striking her, striking me. A god's touch, warm as the summer sun. It came to rest on the slip of papyrus in Lady Sit-Thuti's hand: the letter I'd written to trick her into coming here.
"Lady Sit-Thuti?" I grabbed her sleeve. "Could you do something for me?"
The next morning, a servant opened the door and led me out into a wide corridor, down winding stairs, and through a massive hall—all the way into the courtyard. My father and Lady Sit-Thuti stood on the white paving stones, waiting for me.
My father tilted his head toward Lady Sit-Thuti. "How much time will recovery take now that the demon is gone?"
"Two years should be enough." Lady Sit-Thuti paused. "My homeland will work wonders on him, I assure you"
I bowed my head so my father wouldn't see my grin. All I'd asked Lady Sit-Thuti to do was tell him the demon was gone. But she convinced him to let me go with her to Kamt. Kamt!
My father pursed his lips. "He is my son, my only one. He must learn to be a merchant now that he is cured. You will bring him back to me?"
"Of course, Master Ithobaal." Lady Sit-Thuti's reply might have drained hope from my heart.
But a pale moon lingered in the early morning sky, reminding me anything was possible.
My father gave a nod first to Lady Sit-Thuti, then to me.
Lady Sit-Thuti stretched out her hand. "Come, Baalbazer."
At my father's signal, servants swung the gates open. But I would be a servant—Bazer—no longer.
I clasped Lady Sit-Thuti's hand, and we walked out of the courtyard together. The whole wide world lay before me in blues and yellows and greens and browns, and I would decide how I would fit in it. I remembered how Lady Sit-Thuti mispronounced my name earlier. It had a Kamtiu ring to it, and as the Lady said, names were powerful things.
"Lady," I said, loud enough for my voice to reach the heavens, "from now on, call me Bay."
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Copyright 2011, Karen L. Kobylarz. All rights reserved.
Karen L. Kobylarz first encountered ancient Egypt and Rome while watching The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra at the age of eight and has been a devotee ever since.
Her previous publications include the short stories "Expecting Miracles"¯ (Fables Webzine), "Cleopatra's Needle"¯ (Paradox), and "Imperishable Stars"¯ and "The Book of Thuti."¯ (Leading Edge).
When she's not exploring the mysteries of the Land of the Pharaohs, Ms. Kobylarz teaches third-grade transitional bilingual students at a local elementary school. She has B.A. in Elementary Education and an M.A. in Writing.