What was producing them? As he looked into it, he soon found the answer. Within the doomed galaxies OP was attacking, normal processes were being violently interrupted, with some very strange and spectacular results.
Extremely common binary stars often produced novas. Individual stars, far less common, did not, unless they were of giant size. The potential situation for a nova developed whenever one of the pair of stars consumed all its hydrogen before the other and then it would flare for 200 million years or so. After exhausting its helium it would shrink to an Earth-sized dwarf star. Alone in space, a star of middling size lacked sufficient mass and nothing other than a temporary flaring up could be expected to happen before the eventually cooling and shrinking end of the star to a mere glowing cinder. But if the star had a companion there was a very good chance of it exploding in a spectacular nova.
In virtually countless binaries, novas were about to occur when the red star intervened. Billions of stars were at the stage where the dwarf core converted to carbon and then compacted to diamond. Gases drawn from companion stars had reached speeds of 5,000 km. a second around the dwarf stars, and by abrasion and compression they had heated toward ten million degreees, the critical threshold of nuclear fusion. At that point, since the dwarf stars’ degenerate mantles could not shed or absorb heat, the heat ordinarily should have ignited and exploded the dwarfs.
The red star, in its orgy of destruction, took no notice of incipient novahood. It exploded all stars in its path, whatever the stage they were in, and so many dwarf-star diamond cores blew away intact before the diamond could be atomized by a full-blown nova. Millions, then billions, of unexploded diamonds, many the size of Earth and sometimes bigger, were hurled to the four quarters of the Universe. Rolling outwards with gas, dust, and heavy elements, the diamonds flew at half the speed of light toward remaining galactic superclusters including 3C 295.
Polished to brilliance in the abrasive clouds of debris, the diamond stars drew Wally in for a close inspection. One he found was double the size of Earth.
As he drew the trajectories of the blue diamond and a host of others, he estimated that as many as 10,000 would cross 3C 295. Of that number Earth’s orbit might see fifty. But what would he do with fifty world-sized diamonds? What use could diamonds weighing 6 sextillion tons, or 29,990,400,000,000,000,000 carats, be? Others weighed 12 sextillion tons and up to 18 sextillion tons.
Reflecting on the problem, Wally left the diamonds and flew back to Earth, where he knew he would have to organize his defense strategy very soon or face the consequences.
He had additional reason to do so. Atlanteans, no longer content to keep out of sight while making their plans fail-proof, appeared openly. In his reconaissance he counted over fifty starships in the Atlantean fleet, all operating in the light of day. Obviously, this was not going to be a flyby. They had made many tentative nibbles in the past, trying the waters, so to speak. They had even dared to meddle in society and abducted quite a number of people. But they had not, up to now, attempted a full-scale re-colonization of Earth. The spectacle of a fully-revived mid-Atlantic continent was, apparently, irresistable, overcoming any consideration of risk they thought they might face. Elektra, having failed in health for quite some time, was fully recovered--sporting a new body. She had reasserted all her former powers too. With a vengeance she turned back to her aim to subjugate the Earth and reduce all its inhabitants to slaves, which she only saw fit to supply her with man-power and plasma.
Hurriedly, other diviners and wizards were rushed in to fill the ALARMING gap, but Khian was now so in such bad humor he wouldn’t listen and threw them all out with Joseph.
Potiphar, hearing of the successful interpretations of the Masgeh and Opeh’s dreams, was not surprised. He knew nothing would come of it. It seemed he was right concerning human nature--at least for two years. The Chief Cupbearer had been restored to his high position at court, but once restored to the whirl of court society the official soon forgot the entire unpleasant episode, treating it as though it had never happened.
Joseph, left to languish in prison, should not have expected any different treatment from the Masgeh. Yet, according to Ramoseh’s sad report, he had expected to be remembered, and evidently his heart had been broken. That was Joseph! Any other man would have not put so much stock in another’s good intentions. He would have cut his losses, and continued as usual. But not Joseph!
So the worldly Potiphar judged from his knowledge of men; yet he found he was mistaken. Ramoseh came with even more remarkable news. Joseph had dared to present himself a second time at court! It was sheer death to disappoint a king. Once was bad enough. Twice was madness!
Yet even the Masgeh, deposed for the second time, must have been convinced that Joseph was not mad and accompanied him to court for the fateful interview.
Desperation incarnate, Khian was persuaded to try again at the trembling Chief Cupbearer's behest.
At that time Ramoseh had gone as usual to visit Joseph. During Tep-dut-we’s regime, he had been turned away a hundred times. Joseph's former servant sat on Joseph's mat, with Joseph's pen and papyrus, and made records of his transactions, selling prisoners' food and even their clothing for this and that favor for himself from the guards.
Ramoseh had good opportunity to see if Joseph was afraid or nervous. But Joseph looked very calm. Evidently, he did not fear he would fail as he had previously. Then a palace guard came in and told the warden that they should cut short the preparations. Willing to go an extra length for his own advantage, Per-aa Khian had set aside all business of state and was anxiously waiting in the Hall of the Sacred Papyrus. Leaving the Sohar in the company of the Masgeh, the warden, and many court attendants, Joseph paused to speak with Ramoseh. Since Ramoseh could not be admitted to the palace to watch the proceeding, Joseph agreed to return to the prison and tell him everything.
So Ramoseh waited at the prison, but after a while he thought to go to the palace gate to listen and possibly over-hear something of the matter from the Hyksos and Aramean guards. He knew many guards personally from his periodic visits at the prison, and they were constantly shifted back and forth between palace and prison. Since crowds of people customarily waited by the gate to see certain officials coming and going, he knew he could stand there as long as he liked. The news of what had happened at Joseph's first appearance was common knowledge. That he was again to try the patience of the per-aa attracted even more attention, so the news from court was not long coming.
As the events within the high false-pillared walls spread within the ranks, the guards were talking about it excitedly. One of them noted Ramoseh (who was silently praying for a way to approach them), and called him over. "You of all people should hear this!" declared the friendly guard. "It concerns our Hebrew friend from the prison."
The guard then told him Joseph had been taken in to the palace by aides of the Chief Cupbearer, after he had preceded Joseph and gone and stood before Khian in the Hall of the Sacred Papyrus.
Since the first audience with Joseph had been so disgraceful, the hall was empty of other officials, and, except for the palace guards, Khian, with a characteristic fit of rage, had sent everyone packing.
Per-aa looked gaunt and ill as usual; he hardly ever rose now from the throne without help since the loss of Machitha and the encircling of the capital by Ibbathans and Mycenaeans. As for the Grand Taty, the latest was outside the palace, hanging in a tree. So the guards were not surprised when the per-aa’s face grew very stern and ominous when the handsome, young diviner re-entered the great hall.
At the first audience the Per-aa had acted so differently. Then he had been so eager he had jumped up once or twice, then sat down, re-adjusting his royal robe. And he had remarked loudly, "That's strange! He doesn't wear pointed slippers or have one of those long, white beards to pull!" Now he was silent as a stalking cobra, his eyes boring into the approaching diviner, who halted and bowed, stretching himself down before Per-aa in seven-fold prostrations.
The Chief Cupbearer's face paled. Joseph rose from his bow and said: "Again, the gift is not in me, O Per-aa, but it is El Elyon who will give Per-aa an answer."
“Harumph! You have a neat way to sidestep issues. But the issue here is not which god is best, the issue is which interpretation is correct. I must know! I’ve heard a thousand already, and they make no sense to me at all! I might as well interpret my dreams myself, for all the good it does! But since you have offered, interpret! Just know that your head, and my Masgeh’s, hangs on every word you utter!”
All the guards were amazed to hear Joseph's brave but respectful demeanor. After Khian’s introductory harrange, most anyone would have been trembling to the point of collapse, but not Joseph! Here he stood, stoutly re-affirming his belief in his invisible “El Elyon” before a per-aa who , times beyond number, had declared the death sentence to those who flippantly plied the king with pious sentiments in favor of some god or other.
Having repeated the dreams so many times, the Per-aa rattled through the account of his two dreams, describing the seven fat cows that came up out of the River, only to see them devoured by seven lean cows. The second dream concerned seven fat ears of bread-corn being devoured by seven lean ears. Fat cows! Lean cows! Fat cows eat grass, the lean cows eat the fat cows! However many times they heard it, the guards in the hall could make nothing much of the dreams.
They wondered how Joseph would fare when he failed to come with an explanation good enough to satisfy the wily Per-aa the time before. Joseph was already under a death sentence for the first failure. What would Khian do to him the second time?
Whatever it was, it would be unspeakable. He had been known to take high officials who displeased him by mentioning a battle he did not want to hear about and stuff them into furnaces alive--after he had struck off portions of their anatomies. Others he flayed in a gradual process that permitted the unfortunate to observe most of his body skin removed before he expired.
Khian was smiling and the Chief Cupbearer looked very worried in the several moments it took for Joseph to begin. As for the interpretation, everyone knew that Joseph had to come up with something vastly different and original. Everything had been tried, it seemed. Some wizards believed the fat, sleek cows were mighty Ibbathans devouring Per-aa Khian's poorly-equipped and decimated militia, while others saw plainly that sea-faring mercenaries (the fat ears of grain) would invade and take the entire country during the Inundation, when people were hungry and the land was flooded and most vulnerable to naval attack. Though they seemed plausible interpretations, Khian steadfastly refused to accept them.
“I’ve thought of those things myself, so why should I accept them from you!” he had thundered at the diviners, before ordering them thrashed and thrown into the nearest canal. “No, you’ve got to do better than that or your head will roll!”
Per-aa Khian seemed to expect Joseph to fail, too, when he said, "I told it to those rascally magicians the chief priest of Nathasta sent, but not one could explain it to me. I don't think they will be returning this way again. Unless men can walk without their heads, that is!"
So saying, Per-aa Khian laid his almost powerless scepter across his knees and grimly waited for Joseph to either come up with the correct interpretation or throw himself down and plead for mercy like more craven types had already done. Instead, Joseph looked the per-aa in the eye and said, "The dream of Per-aa is one; God has revealed to Per-aa what he is about to do..."
And all the guards breathlessly told Ramoseh what Joseph had said about seven years of plenty that would come upon the land, to be followed immediately by seven years of famine.
The guards slapped their sides and threw up their hands. "How could we have ever guessed that?" they exclaimed. "But Joseph saw it plainly, as Per-aa Khian himself saw it after Joseph had finished divining."
But there were yet amazing things to come. Joseph had more to say to the Per-aa, who was visibly trembling on his throne alongside an exulting Cupbearer. "The doubling of Per-aa's dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will surely and speedily bring it to pass."
When Joseph had said that, no one stirred or breathed for long moments. Time seemed to drop off its dial in the palace entrance and lie still on the floor. Even cries of distant wildlife in the river marshes could be heard distinctly. Every eye was fixed on Joseph. No Per-aa, Chief Cupbearer, or guards had ever heard such wisdom at court; Joseph was the greatest magician who ever lived!
Ramoseh, hearing these things, wanted to rush off immediately and tell his master, as well as his fellow servants; but the excited guards caught his arm and the account continued with the best portion by far, in their estimation.
Joseph was so bold as to follow his successful divination with advice to the Per-aa, who listened intently as if he were listening to his own gray-headed father!. "Now therefore let Per-aa select a man discreet and wise," continued Joseph in a cool, controlled manner, "and set him over the land of Mizraim. Let Per-aa proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce during the seven years of plenty. And let them gather up all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain in storage under Per-aa's control for supplying food to the cities. That food will be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine, so the country may not perish."
Again, a breathless silence reigned as the Per-aa considered what a mere slave (and a twice- condemned one at that!) had declared so daringly to his supreme lord and master. The Cupbearer, despite Joseph's wonderful sagacity and wisdom, was drowning in his own sweat when Per-aa Khian finally moved, nodding in approval. Khian glanced somewhat irritably, however, to his right and left, and threw up his hands, saying, "What land? What authority? What cities? Can you not see my kingdom and royal majesty have been torn from me and given to another?"
The Chief Cupbearer's face was stricken white--the guards thought Masgeh might even faint, for never had the Per-aa spoken so openly of his terrible plight before his subjects. Yet Joseph had smiled and knelt before the Per-aa. What he said, no one could hear, since it was meant only for the Per-aa. Yet everyone saw the Per-aa's ashen face change and become thoughtful in expression, though still unsmiling. "We shall see about that," was all he said.
Suddenly, the Per-aa rang a bell handed him by the Keeper of the Royal Bell, and within moments the hall was flooded with half-contemptuous, but also terrified courtiers--all high-born Mizraimites who had been waiting the whole time, out of earshot in all the adjoining halls and courtyards. The Per-aa turned contemptuously to them in return, and had the Chief Cupbearer relate everything had had just happened. When the fellow had finished and was sinking backwards toward his fan-bearers and fly-swatters with relief, Per-aa Khian suddenly straightened like a soldier. He fixed a new expression of determination on his face and rose with authority. Aware something had changed the Per-aa's mood drastically, the whole assembly fell to their knees, save one slave and prisoner--Joseph. Now not a few thought everyone was going to be executed by the king--his last, cruel act before abdication.
With royal majesty streaming from every pore of his royal person, Per-aa Khian stepped down from his dais and put the gold tip of his scepter to Joseph's right shoulder. "Can we find another such man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God--El Elyon?" He glanced around the hall with contempt, then turned his gaze full on Joseph.
"Well, then, since God has shown you all this, there is evidently none so discreet and wise as you are. Furthermore, I here declare you a ward of the court. You are no longer a slave of Lord Potiphar’s. From this moment on, it is done!"
Never had his courtiers seen such a display of royal dignity in those precincts. Those of them that dared, looked up, and the resplendent scene of a genuine Per-aa, living and breathing again in Mizraim in all his might and perogative, was imprinted forever on their memories.
Khian made a sign for the astonished, wide-eyed Chief Cupbearer to come near. “You there! You, too, are restored to my favor! I commend you on your choice of diviners. I shall reward ou richly as soon as I am restored to my former estate!”
The two spoke for a moment, before the Cupbearer hastened to withdraw from the hall, calling his aides to follow him quickly as he left to open up the Grand Taty's palace and bring out the electrum-plated chariot.
The resurgent Per-aa turned back to Joseph, who stood patiently beneath the weight of the solid gold scepter. "You, my Lord Grand Taty, shall be over my house, and all my people shall do exactly as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you."
Having installed Joseph as Grand Taty of Mizraim (utterly ignoring the mocking reality of so small a portion in royal control), the Per-aa gave sign that the audience was at an end. At the same time he turned to go. He gave his scepter to Joseph to carry and walked from the hall with renewed vigor and the new Grand Taty on his arm. For Per-aa Khian, much like Joseph's old father in far-off Kena'n, had seen many evil days of late; it made him old before his time. Yet something had touched deep in the depths of the wretched man, a dark veil, had been ripped in two. Light had poured in, restoring the fount of his life and soul, precisely when everyone in his shrunken realm had given him up to ruin and death--everyone except Joseph, who had said in secret to him: "O Per-aa! God's hand is on you for good. You will never fall to your enemies. Not a hair on your head will be touched., even though the stars should burn and fall upon the land."
This, too, was not to be borne. Inspite of Mizraimite scruples, she once might have thrown herself to the crocodiles in a fit of despair, but the thought filled her with horror when her mind had found a certain calm. Without a body she could never expect to be with her father again. And all she looked for was the time she would join him in his house of eternity, as she imagined the temple artists would draw them together on the walls of his funerary chapel by the river--if, that is, his chapel ever materialized.
Not able to go out to inspect the work, she was forced to rely on whatever her captors told her. She was instructed not to worry about a thing. All work on Petenath’s chapel (as well as the embalming) was proceeding at rapid pace and would be finished in time for the first ceremonies. When she asked about the painted pictures that were to go in the chapel, they described how she and her father were being faithfully portrayed according to her father's explicit instructions. Her father was shown seated on a golden chair. She, depicted as a young girl, stood at his right, palms outstretched to a tall, blue ibis, the sacred form of the god of letters and all learning, depicted as if the bird were eating from her hand.
Encouraged by the reports, she had sent in a design for another wall picture. Let the chief priest think it sacrilegious and presumptuous! she thought. In it she pictured her father. A belt of Orion’s stars around his waist, he was eternally young and full of life, standing on the silver moon boat (his flying falconship) his arm outstretched toward the West to which they were sailing together to Paradise.
She meant it to to provide a beautiful scene for the ka of her father to contemplate and enjoy. The Dead had plenty of time to meditate upon life's pleasures after the embalming was completed and the young mourners finished their songs, after throwing sand on their heads and chanting about the glorious new life the temple architect was now about to enter.
But the chapel was only one link in the ceremonial chain. "When will my father's causeway and tomb be finished?" she had asked the funerary priests sent by the chief priest after she kept demanding day after day for word.
"All things are in the hands of the celestial ones!" the prigs had solemnly intoned, refusing to tell her when the causeway and tomb would be ready to receive her father.
The news about the chapel had not prepared her for this setback. Assured of the worst, that somehow she was being taken as a fool, Asenath stared at the foolish priests and felt more pity than anger. They had received, she knew, instructions from the chief priest to carry on as though everything was right and in perfect order. She was deliberately being misled!
"But if this chapel is all he has for a tomb, say so, that I might inscribe special words of comfort from his own daughter, that may warm his heart in the realm of the Dead!"
The priests in charge refused to admit what she suspected, that there was no causeway and tomb for her father. They gazed at her in alarm as she described how she wished to add some of her own inscriptions to the wall pictures of the chapel. "But Blest Daughter of Petenath, nothing of this sort has ever been done before!" they sputtered, rolling their eyes with horror. "This is a funerary chapel, not a tomb. What you propose would would offend the gods of the Dead!” So they told her, refusing to budge on the matter, to add anything to what was strictly given to their office to paint on funeral chapel walls.
And what was so terrible that she planned to do? She had thought to paint her iron lunar boat, and the iron bridge over the Ioteru, and other such projects she had worked on while her father yet lived; but the bronze-loving priests had stood united against her, and she could do nothing, being a sequestered ward of Duamutef and the Temple. From that point her anger and disappointment knew virtually no bounds. She fully suspected that the actual tomb was buried beneath the rubble of Khian's fallen "sea." Even if there was a chapel left standing, there was no causeway and tomb for her father. She was merely being humored, led to think everything was alright. She wept as she thought of how Khian had deprived her father of the certain immortality of a House of Eternity. Abandoned to certain neglect in a riverside chapel that was sure to decay and fall down in the Inundations, he would never know what the other Per-aa's enjoyed. As for Khian, he would soon lose his very capital and have to flee--if he did not lose his life. But the fate of the man most responsible for her father's tombless state gave her no comfort.
If these things were not enough, the Ibbathan Per-aa was another cause for grief. He and his cohorts--the nobles--were winning the war. Nathasta, she knew, would soon turn her over to her cousin's disposal, perhaps to win a little favor before it was too late. What fate could be worse than that? Thinking of the donkey-king in Avaris, she could not make up her mind, the two evils weighing equally in her estimation.
The City of the Moon, being a northern city, had remained loyal too long to the southern capital, diplomatically over-looking its foreign ruler; and Ibbatha had a rival moon-god, Pher, with a temple that more than rivaled the Temple of Nath in splendor and size.
Asenath knew the chief priest was even now trying to think of how best to use her. Perhaps he had already decided. For days and weeks she waited on tenterhooks, wondering what fate Duamutef had chosen for her. When she could wait no more and keep her own mind, she decided to try to escape Duamutef’s clutches once again and pay a second visit to her cousin. It was then she received a call from the chief priest. Instead of seeing her, he sent shocking word that she was to make herself ready for Khian's court, for a new Grand Taty had been appointed and she was to be his wife!
This greatest of honors, the letter told her, was hers if she would act like a daughter of Petenath. The reference to her father and the name the chief priest insisted on using stung Asenath greatly, but she decided to slip away and see her cousin anyway. If she was to be a wife of a taty serving Khian, she saw no reason for remaining under oath to a rival Per-aa (whether or no he conquered Avaris on her wedding day).
Since Prince Narmer had betrayed her to such a fate as Khian's court, let him know the sting of his betrayal, she reasoned. And the only one who could let him know that was herself. She alone held his Secret--the same his namesake, Narmer the Dawn King, had been given by a wise man on the king's birthday at the beginning of his reign over the Two Kingdoms. He may have managed to come to power without it, but his hold was at best tenuous, without her support--support she would never willingly give.
Yet the plan for a second escape was very difficult to carry out, for the chief priest had chosen her servants and guards most carefully to prevent just such an occurrence. She looked for every opportunity, even lying awake at night to discover if the guards would fall asleep and allow her to slip by. But she found them always alert, and they would not even touch her offered jewels. Her maids were just as vigilant, and indeed they acted more craftily and watchful after the chief priest had sent official word for her to prepare herself for court.
Her despair was great when the chief priest himself arrived, to announce her immediate departure.
"My dear, you are most blessed of the god! Daughter of Petenath, annoint yourself with the finest scents! All Avaris awaits your coming. For you have been found worthy to be the wife of the Grand Taty, chief of his wives and all his harem!"
Asenath listened to the wheezing blandishments of the chief priest with sinking heart; and he told her to gather her personal things for her maids to carry and she was to follow him at once to the quay of the solar boat. She was to leave at once for the capital.
The chief priest waited in an ante-room of the apartment while Asenath was made ready for her journey. Her trouseau was hastily assembled from the things she had and also accoutrements the chief priest had ordered from the shops in the city. His haste was apparent to everyone, and Asenath's maids stumbled over each other in desperation to get their reluctant mistress dressed and jewelled appropriately for her journey and court appearance.
The chief priest had assigned a large number of temple guards, since the Ibbathans held the river past Nathasta, though they had not yet attacked the temple and the city. At last, Asenath was led out for the chief priest's inspection. In her fine gown and gold necklace, she appeared a queen, perhaps the most ravishing woman the land of red and black had known to this date. Even the old eunuch-priest was stirred to high admiration.
Lord Duamutef, who as a eunuch cared nothing for women as such, yet knew what made for physical attraction in a female, just as a horse breeder knows good horseflesh when he sees it. Asenath was worthy of a king! Twice worthy in his view! Was he letting her go at too small a price? He sighed. There wasn’t time to go back over the matter. He gave a small sign with his hand, and she was taken to the quay. With fan-bearers and fly-swatters, the procession slowly proceeded to the lunar boat, attracting much attention from priests and citizenry alike. No one had seen so regal and lovely a young woman--since Asenath lived in seclusion. People crowded excitedly against the priests to get a glimpse of the moon-god's favorite. After all, the Temple itself was called Harem of the Moon-God.
When the chief priest, looking out Asenath's window, had seen her safely on board, and the boat oared down the canal to the River, where it was but a short distance to another canal connecting with the capital, only then did he relax and enjoy a measure of relief. Lately, he had intended her for Per-aa Narmer, who was evidently winning the war. But the blinding face of a god--was it the moon?--had appeared in a dream to him, warning him of divine displeasure if Asenath were given to Ibbatha and its king. He had no choice but to disregard ascendant Ibbatha and turn back toward the declining Avaris. It had cost him great agony of mind and soul, but he had obeyed the divinity. Why? As long as he lived he would never forget the encounter. The Divine One had just spoken to him concerning the princess, and there was a burning question that he had to ask such a One as this seemed to be. Yet he dared not ask it directly, so he thought to draw god out a bit, after the fashion of the Mizraimites.
It dawned on him that he might be standing, a sinner, on holy ground, so he backed instantly away, striking the wall with force. He felt totally undone. “A holy God...a holy God...oh, my!” Even the Per-aa, god-king of Mizraim, officially fatal to touch, could be touched and handled by Chief Wives, concubines, physicians, and royal children of his household.
His very shoes seemed unclean, and scorched his feet, so he kicked them off.
It was that sense--of ineffable, unapproachable Holiness--that decided everything for him in the matter of Asenath. For no one in Mizraim, for anything that Mizraim had, for not even Nath, could he have made such an about face. But he managed it as he trembled, shoeless, against the wall.
The chief priest paled, for he knew the threat could be carried out, but he stood his ground. "Tell your 'lord' I have only obeyed the wish of the god who is more splendid than the Moon!" Duamutef shot back at the Ibbathan.
But obedience was small comfort to the chief priest, as he turned his back to the spy and made for the security of thick, temple walls. Duamutef knew in his very bones the Ibbathans would probably be in Nath's city, storming the Temple's gates within a few days. Where could he go? Outside the Temple, fleeing for his life, he would be powerless. No one would do anything he wanted. He would have to pay for every service with gold, and he couldn’t carry gold and his weight too, his legs would collapse after a few steps. No, he would have to remain where he was and take whatever came.
"Fool priest, you’re a walking dead man!" the spy muttered as he watched the old priest waddle away toward the temple with a small army of fan-bearers, fly-swatters, and priestly sycophants. With Per-aa Narmer's letter still in his possession, the spy darted off toward a group of Ibbathan and Mycenaean chariots, waiting at the gate to the quay. In the chariots were sumptuous gifts and a bridal trouseau for Asenath, chosen to be the new queen of Per-aa Narmer. Even now Narmer was awaiting her arrival at the ceremony planned to take place at the Festival of Machitha.
After informing a Mycenaean commander in one of the chariots, the spy was struck with terror as the Theseus, a chief of the Sea Peoples ordered his men to go at once into the temple and seize the chief priest at once. If he could not be taken--that is, if his fat made the capture too inconvenient--they must kill him on the spot. No court, no statement of any kind, just strike him down.
The men, garbed in Mizraimite clothes, grabbed short swords and hurried off after the chief priest.
Ignoring the frightened spy, the Mycenaean calmly waited for his men to return. He had led his main force against an undefended Knossos, ransacking it in their search for Minos; finally, with a drawing by the Minos' own daughter they had succeeded in penetrating to the king's hidden lair. It was not easily done at that. The Minos was not called the Fox of Knossos for nothing. The Minos had been slain, but his son had somehow escaped into the palace prison, disappearing into the immense, underground caverns the Keftuians called Labyrinth after the sign and name of the sacred ax.
The admiral-king saw his men returning at a run from the temple. He could tell at a glance the chief priest was no more a thorn in anyone’s flesh. His thoughts turned homeward again, and he frowned. For the loss of the son and heir of the Keftuian throne was great; the Mycenaean had smarted from the loss of the Dauphin prince, the one called Daedalus after the god-brained artificer. As for the treacherous chief priest, he had proved easy prey, his own priests giving him up gladly to the sword and running off to save their hides.
King Theseus’s thoughts moved off the chief priest to more important matters.
Let the silly wretch of an Ibbathan Per-aa marry his wife's daughter instead! He, Theseus of noble Mycenae, could well afford to lose her to an ally such as Mizraim after all the booty he had reaped in the sack of Keftiu.
Moments later, the little business in Nathasta completed satisfactorily, his command brought the group of chariots into formation, and then they were speeding south toward Machitha and the Ibbathan lines.
Knowing nothing of Ibbathan and Mycenaean schemes, Asenath waited in agony for her nuptial presentation to take place. The little journey by boat and then by carrying-chair to Khian's palace was soon over. She was given royal apartments and a dozen maids to prepare her hair and person for her presentation at court to the new Grand Taty. Everyone who came to greet the bride of the new Taty was astonished. They had all heard reports, but the reality exceeded every expectation. Some thought she might have looked more pleased than resigned to such signal honor, but her beauty, they could see, was such she had only to walk into the palace hall of the Per-aa to stop whatever was going on.
Her clothes were changed, her hair arranged, and her limbs bathed and annointed with the finest Mycenaean scented oil. A coronet of a royal princess, of intricately interwined gold-wire and flowers of blue and gold, was set on her head by the Cupbearer himself, who was third in the kingdom after the Grand Taty.
All while this was going on, no one told Asenath anything about the Taty; she was to be his wife, that was all she knew.
Was he Hyksos? she wondered, as she was led through the royal palace toward the audience hall. But it mattered little to her; all the elaborate preparation had only convinced her she would be happier dying and becoming a Westerner, a ka travelling into the lands of the immortally blest. Only her flesh, pampered with scent and covered with heavy gold and jewels, was left to be the plaything of the new Taty. That, unless she took poison or threw herself in the River, she could not help. Asenath's only regret was being prevented from going to Ibbatha. Now she would have to wait, a Taty's wife, for the conquering Ibbatha to come and storm Khian's palace, taking her as war booty to Machitha, the traditional capital of the United Kingdoms. Would she then be able to confront Prince Narmer? she asked herself. Perhaps his Secret would remain so; for she had lost all hope of saving her country from his doomed throne. And what about the destruction of the “Universe” the vases told her was going on? Would could she do if no one would listen?
The bridal procession was soon entering the hall of Per-aa. As Khian liked to conduct the business of court alongside the huge pool that adjoined the royal harem, Asenath and her chosen attendants had to pass between a long series of lotus-bud pillars that separated the audience hall from the pool. The pavement was hammered silver, and the ceiling between the pillars was blue and spangled with five-pointed, golden stars. Banners of brilliant blue cloth with Khian's Golden Papyrus of State and Royal Name-Cartouche hung from each pillar.
But Asenath saw nothing but the backs of dignitaries leading the procession. A true daughter of Petepheres, she too cared nothing for the pomp and ceremony of court. The massed ranks of high nobles and their wives also meant nothing to her, and their murmured approval went unnoticed. Heart-sick, Asenath alone knew her plight; no one had even guessed her depth of dismay. Yet she recalled, as she proceeded slowly with the grand procession toward the Per-aa's tottering throne, pausing as her names was announced to the king and the people, words spoke softly but clearly to her anguished heart and mind.
"My daughter, come forward!" commanded the Hyksos donkey on the gilded throne. Her face burning and eyes downcast, Asenath obeyed the foreign tyrant, and was not even aware of her movements, whether she bowed correctly or not. She found herself a moment later being presented to the Taty, a handsome man with thick, curly wig, seated at the Per-aa's right hand in a gilded throne.
Whether she bowed or remained standing, she had no idea, as her distress overwhelmed her mind and heart. Asenath also was forced to submit to everyone's stare for long moments as Khian's favorite Kena'nite musicians and pom pon dancers sprang leaping into the hall and entertained the assembly of courtiers and their wives. At last, accompanied by a fanfare of flutes, she was led by the Cupbearer up to the Taty, but etiquette required her to accept his offered hand as he stood to his feet on the same leopard-skinned dais as the Usurper.
She gave her bridegroom a brief glance, which told her he was not Mizraimite but Semite, and then she was taken away from an astonished and admiring Per-aa and court to the Taty's apartments for the arrival of her husband. Priests of Nath (and a new chief priest) would later officiate at an equally grand temple ceremony in Nathasta.
After her debut in court Asenath collapsed on a chair in a eunuch-guarded private chamber with her maids around her, waiting. The maids indulged in a little chatter, trying to interest their mistress in court things and her new life as a Grand Taty's wife. But Asenath did not reply and, without encouragement, the maids fell silent, wondering if they had offended her.
The Chief Cupbearer entered hesitantly, with fan-bearer and attendants. He was talking to the Taty, “Zaphenath-Paneah,” as the Usurper called him. “The Per-aa said he was well pleased with the offering of the chief priest of Nath," the Cupbearer said. "Are you not happy to be given such a beauty?"
The Cupbearer in turn fell silent as he saw Asenath, sitting with a pained, pale expression on her chair, looking up only to eye them darkly, as a captive animal might view its captor.
He glanced at the new Taty, who did not say anything but waited for the Cupbearer to leave.
Bowing to them both, the official left hurriedly.
The Taty startled Asenath by walking past her and going to the pool. His gold necklace and white robes mirrored in the waters, he knelt down, removed his wig, and plucked a sacred, blue-and-white lotus.
Since he seemed so absorbed in the flower, Asenath turned with curiosity to look at him. He grew aware of her eyes, and turned to face her. The heavy-petalled lotus in his hand dropped back into the water with a splash. "I used to gather these for my master, Lord Potiphar," he told her with a smile. "Pressed into scented oil, they brought good revenue for the estate. And most of the oil went straight to this palace, I believe."
Amazed that a Taty had once been a common laborer, Asenath asked him his story, and soon they were talking as if they were friends, mingling the varied experiences of a nobleman's estate and temple life. Asenath even forgot her husband was a foreign Semite.
It grew time for the servants to leave, but they too were listening with interest. Zaphenath-Paneah made no sign for anyone to go, and they continued to listen as he told Asenath about the Cupbearer and the late Chief Baker, how God had given him correct interpretations of their dreams after they had been thrown in prison for displeasing the Per-aa. "Now the Cupbearer is my friend for life, though he forgot all about me for two years!" the Taty confided. “I find his memory is much improved!”
And Asenath stared at him, finally breaking into a laugh. Her maids joined in, so taken with the story they forgot it had been at Joseph's expense.
The Taty looked around the group of servants. "Now what are your names? Tell me. I can’t have people around me I don’t know."
Astonished that a high official regarded them as something more than dirt, they could hardly answer him at first. One by one, they gave their names, and the Taty nodded his approval.
"I want you all to come with me, that is, us, to our palace. Would you like that?"
The servant girls could hardly contain their feelings, and a few began to weep, though it would have meant punishment at the hands of other masters. The Taty turned to those who were weeping.
"Why do you weep when I ask you to come with us?" he inquired.
At first the maids were too afraid to reply, but one said to him, "We have never laughed before or been so happy in this place! Why do you treat us this way, sire? We are all going to die here, are we not? And soon?"
Zaphenath-Paneah and Asenath exchanged glances; what they had heard of the palace was of course true; the splendor was a passing shadow; the reality they faced was a stalking terror, and the features were dark-skinned, narrow-eyed Ibbathan. Dread seemed to pour out of the gold and silver-plated walls, and Asenath shivered in her linen gown.
"Please take me from here," she pleaded. "I have only wished for death, since I heard they were taking me to Khian's court and harem! But I don’t want to die in his den!"
Later, in the Taty's palace, the couple felt more free to talk about their feelings once the servants were sent to their rooms. For some time Asenath sat by herself, gathering the wool of heavy thoughts, before she turned to her husband.
"Did you know they were sending for me?"
"No, I was only told a few days ago, when I was taken from prison a second time to interpret the dreams of Per-aa."
"Please tell me his dreams. Did he dream of Ibbathan chariots hurling their flaming spears and arrows against his palace, setting it on fire? For that is soon to happen."
"No, they were quite different. Ibbatha will not take this place, whatever the people think may happen. God will not allow it."
His voice struck her as far too light. She felt annoyed.
"You have spoken so confidently again of your "God," as if he were the only one. In my country there are many, equally powerful. How can you speak of one god in the way you do?"
The Taty gazed at Asenath for a time, and his searching, light-beaming gaze seemed to gain in understanding and shocked her with his divining powers. "You too were looking for Him--as a maiden. Have you forgotten the times He spoke to you? I feel he must have spoken to you! Well, I have known him since I was a small and bare-legged child. He is the God of my fathers. We know him because he took our father Abraham who was an Aramean and wandered the desert and made us a people, we who were not a people. With him and us He made an everlasting Covenant, the mark of which we males bear on our bodies, and within, in our spirits."
The hours passed swiftly, and torches had to be lit and lamps set aflame for light, as the Taty and his new wife talked long into the night. Neither had slept when the new day dawned.
When he removed his robe she was shocked by his bruises and cuts and the scars of whips.
Aware of her reaction, he had gazed sheepishly down at his limbs. “I cannot hide my former life. Everyone knows it here. For years I was made a prisoner, and you can see I was treated as one.”
His back was even worse.
“How cleverly that robe concealed what you have been through,” she commented. “They made you look like you had always lived here at court.”
“Not so,” he said. “But once I did reside at a grand house, Lord Potiphar’s. And before that, best of all, in my father’s tents.” Feeling the pall of strain and anxiety that lay over the entire city, they did not come together. Asenath dreaded it and was resigned to it, but Zaphenath-Paneah did not insist on his right.
In the morning he went over to the pool, knelt, and dashed water on his face, then walked to the far end of the court to look out through the doors onto the terrace. The first rays of light was glinting on the dark blue peaks of the Per-aa tombs in the West.
A sleepy Asenath joined him. Not afraid of her foreigner-husband anymore, she approached him and stood by his side gazing out toward Mizraim's chief glory, the houses of eternity built a millenium before on the River's western bank. The clear, dawn light was full of white, long-legged birds flying southward over the shining, gold tips of the houses of eternity, and the moon was sinking from sight.
"So I am married to a slave and a criminal--a well-beaten one at that," she laughed, looking at the face of her husband. "Atleast you are not old and carry your stomach in bulging folds before you like the fat priests!"
"But must I call you by that impossible name?" she asked. "If you are indeed a "Revealer of Secrets," surely time will tell if you know all of mine; and if not, the chief priest will get me another husband."
The Taty's face sobered.
"I know you do not mean that. I have told you the truth. Interpretions are God's, not my own."
Asenath, her mind turning back to the grim message of the vases, also turned her laughing face away. She wanted to cry out, break into a rage. How simple this man seemed! He apparently knew nothing about the Ibbathans waiting to spring upon Avaris like a starved lion. Soon she would be in Prince Narmer's coils and this husband of hers would be dead, lying slain somewhere in the halls of Khian's palace. He too was a fool, as doomed as Khian.
The Taty went over to her. "I know you think I am a fool to believe in my God's deliverance. But I have learned He is faithful. He has delivered me many times, from death in various pits, from false accusation and prison, and the snare of a beautiful woman's charms."
At the mention of a woman, Asenath spun around, a twinge of jealousy in her heart. "Tell me of the woman. Do I know her? Who is she?"
The Taty shook his head. "I did not bed with her, and she became a fierce enemy and her husband cast me into his prison. He preserved his honor, and the honor of his house. But now God has released me from him.”
"I don't understand you at all," said Asenath, with wonderment in her eyes. “You don’t seem to be enraged at them for what they did to you. But please tell me more of your God and your people. I find your ways most curious and amusing."
A second day passed. At the end of it Asenath was beginning to see that hope in her heart was not deceiving her. The God who had spoken to her long before in the past was again speaking to her, through the Taty her husband. It was incomprehensible for God to be so personal, but she listened to all her husband's words, asking many questions, and he patiently explained everything until her understanding grew.
When no temple ceremony was performed, Asenath was forced to ask her husband. As for Khian’s authority to marry them, she despised him too much to acknowledge what had transpired in his donkey-court.
"I thought to wait until you had more knowledge of my God and my people," he replied. "If you are willing, I will call a man who knows my God to witness our coming together as man and wife. Even that is not necessary, as it is God alone who is our witness. The ceremony of the gods and priests in Nathasta can wait even longer. Anyway, I have seen it. It is a snakepit."
“He calls my home and temple a snakepit!” she marveled. “But he is right! It truly is!”
Soon the steward hurried in, bowing with some haste, to inform the Taty that he had a man waiting who claimed to know him, a young sand-rambler by the name of Abdullah. He also brought the words of Lady Zenobia in greeting, but in the excitement of reunion forgot and did not remember them until much later.
Abdullah was brought in, carrying his pet bird on his arm. The Taty clapped his arms around the grinning Ishmaelite, as Asenath looked on with amazement.
"Morning of fragrance, honey-lips!" the bird cried to Joseph.
"What! A Scribe Bird!" Asenath could not help crying out.
Her lord smiled, giving Abdullah another firm grasp as he turned to Asenath. "This man belonged to the caravan that took me to Mizraim as a slave," the Grand Taty explained. "He was kind to me and became my lifelong friend! And I'm hoping he will stay and serve me in the great work we have to do in the days ahead!"
Asenath's eyes widened; wonder was quickly following wonder; her husband was like no man she had ever seen, so free with noblemen and low-born alike that he was defying the very order of the universe and civilized life as they had been long established in Mizraim. Though it seemed most strange, Asenath submitted to the Taty's foreign ways, joining her hand to his with Abdullah as a witness, more to see what might happen than because she wanted it.
"In the sight of the Most High," Abdullah said forthrightly, "may you join as one and be blessed with the blessings of heaven above and blessings of the deep that couches beneath and blessings of the breasts and the womb! And," he added, "may God grant that your wife be in heat as a she-camel!”
“May your wife be in heat as a she-camel!" the bird reiterated, only to bray like a donkey.
Asenath did not know whether to be angry or laugh. Instead she went over to a chair to sit down. She gazed back at her “husband” with wondering, sad eyes. The Taty looked at her for a moment, made a sign to his friend, and they went out to talk over more things.
Asenath sat for a time, looking out on the pool and court-yard, trying to gather her confused thoughts. She had learned new things in a short time, but the thought of Prince Narmer and the Ibbathan army had returned with a vengeance. All the things that had just occurred seemed unreal. She rose up, wondering what to do.
Zaphenath-Paneah went over to her, a troubled expression on his face that mirrored her own.
"I am sorry I have filled your thoughts with so many strange things. I have given a tender plant too much water perhaps, and my words have brought a dark cloud to your mind?"
"I can not hide anything, even my thoughts from you!" she said, frustration springing into her eyes. "I may be forced to be your wife at the moment, but I know to whom I am destined--Prince Narmer. He will come to claim me soon. And he will kill both you and Per-aa Khian, and expunge your names from all the monuments forever."
The new vizier shook his head. "My God will not allow our deaths. For He will be true to the words He has spoken--that seven years of plenty will come upon the land, and after that seven years of leanness. Per-aa has appointed me to Grand Taty in charge of all grain storage; no, I shall not be killed by any mere man!"
He laughed. “They’ve tried many, many times to slay me and not succeeded. I nearly died from their mistreatment, but even then my life was preserved, as you can see.”
Asenath, his reluctant vizireine, gazed at him helplessly. When he made to approach her, she turned away, and after a few moments she looked but he was gone.
In the silence of the room, broken only by the sound of evening wind ruffling the tall-stemmed blossoms of the lotuses, Asenath had time to think. Several times her maids came to her, but she sent each away. She was not hungry and desired nothing. She could think only about the sharp-toothed menace stalking them from the north. It was time to go! As though she had left a dream, she walked out of the Taty's palace as it grew dark; immediately, the man on duty, a tall Nubian who drove the Taty's state chariot and was named Jizra, obeyed her command and she was taken at a gallop toward the outer gates of Avaris.
“My lady,” he anxiously addressed her. “If we go into enemy lands, they will arrest me and put me back in the quarries where I will die!”
“No,” she assured him. “You are under my authority. They’d never dare touch you!”
Jizra glanced at her and his expression showed clearly he wasn’t so certain.
They stopped at several points where Ibbathans controlled the roads. Asenath only had to explain she was Per-aa Narmer's royal cousin, and they too let her pass, despite the Hyksos-designed chariot and Nubian driver. That seemed to calm the charioteer a bit. In the late morning the white walls of Machitha loomed on the horizon. They drove into the strangely deserted city and found the populace had flocked to the courts and temple-grounds of the moon-god. Everyone in the holiday crowd eagerly anticipated the union of the Per-aa about to take place with his consort, a princess of the royal family and a former concubine of Nath at his Temple in Nathasta. But whether the Per-aa would run the race around the walls was still a matter of considerable debate.
Deliberately losing her driver in the crowds, Asenath struggled to get closer. She missed her footing several times as the crowd surged this way and that with anticipation. She finally fought her way clear to the very edge of the sphinx-lined avenue. Ibbathan soldiers lined the approach to the temple, and kept anyone from stepping on to the flower-strewn road where only gods, priests, and per-aas might tread.
"Hail to the immortal god-king!" the light-hearted crowd chanted in joyful cadence over and over. "Hail to the immortal god-king on whom the divine Moon, Pher, has shone!"
Feeling an utter stranger among her own people, Asenath waited, the Per-aa's Secret burning like a heavy, molten ingot within her breast. A most musical event, the Festival (with its celebration of the Per-aa's nuptials) was proclaimed by hundreds of harps played by maidens, as they tripped merrily along between rows of smiling priests conducting images of Machitha's chief gods to the canal quay in order to greet the incoming Per-aa's and his chosen gods.
News of the Per-aa's landing with his bride in his sacred boat swept through the assembly. Foreign mercenaries with plumed helmets and leather tunics waved banners of the Per-aa's lotus beside those with a rampant, gold lion. Priestesses marched with ritual instruments, the menat and sistrum in their hands. The noise of the music and the marching of feet became deafening as the rejoicing cavalcade reached the quay. At the Per-aa's landing, a priest sang a greeting, "You rise up in your perfection, Divine King, and Son of the gods, when you sail in the sacred lunar boat."
Per-aa Narmer II turned toward the waters of the great River Ioteru. Known as a god itself, the waters were divine, and brought life to all the realm of Mizraim. He was handed the usual offering to the god, some gilded sheaves of grain and a gold vessel of wine. Casting the sheaves and pouring out the wine, the Per-aa brought a shout of joyful acclamation from the people as his act guaranteed the gods' favor for another year; thus he insured the Inundation would be not too high or too low, and the land would be replenished as it had been for a thousand of years as richly silted waters deposited their gift of fertility on the land. "Take, eat and drink, thou mighty one!" he called to the ancient, river deity. Then he turned to the cheering multitude. "Take, eat and drink, O my children!"
The Per-aa then turned to his consort as priests proclaimed the union of Ibbathan and Machithan gods. The Per-aa pointed toward the River, as if to remind his new queen, a ringleted creature with a Keftiuan-style gown and hair-style, of his power and majesty. "This river is mine. I made it--that is, my forebears cut the channel and diverted rivers into it from the far north."
The royal princess, a daughter of Pasiphae, wife of the king of Mycenae, smiled in approval though she was dismayed by her husband's darksome skin, narrow eyes, and general shapelessness; and the couple disembarked behind ranks of Myceneans and amazed and increasingly horrified Mizraimites who did not know what to make of Narmer’s foreign consort.
The admiral-king remained discreetly on board ship in the River, just in case something should go wrong and a strong hand was needed to intervene.
It was slow going, however, for the royal couple, as the Per-aa was not accustomed to long walks, and the length of the journey by river had already taxed his strength. He had only just met his new consort, and was not even sure of her strange and barbaric name. The procession was grand enough, but the crowds were buzzing with gossip and wonderment at what they were seeing. They stared in shock at the new, white-complected queen, however, and were more astonished as the statues of her god and goddess, Heaphes of the Thunder-Bolt and snake-wreathed Lady Aspoth, were presented to Mizraim's chief gods in a ceremony before the Temple. With so much going on, no one noticed the mighty fleet of lion-bannered ships standing out in the River, everyone was so intent on the strange events of the Festival.
Asenath herself did not know what to make of the strangers in Machitha, but she had come to speak to the Per-aa, not his barbarian allies, and so she struggled to keep her footing at the edge of the crowd. When Per-aa Narmer came in sight, Asenath saw at once that it was impossible to reach him. He had so many fan-bearers around him that she would never get close, unless he recognized her at a distance and gave special orders; but that would mean stopping the procession, something no man or god could command. She watched the Ibbathan Per-aa pass by and felt the crowd surge in its united desire to follow the One in whom Mizraimites placed all their hope of immortality. Per-aa alone was held immortal and assured of an eternal home in the West. In him and his throne all Mizraim's hope was centered and realized, for none could afford a house of eternity to equal Per-aa's. Even a smaller tomb placed alongside was no guarantee of everlasting bliss, since time and chance might combine to cast his embalmed body to the jackals and the desert sands.
The Per-aa finally stopped before the gates of the Temple. He alone was entitled to enter and offer sacrifices to the god in a secret rite that only the eyes of the god could look upon. The chief priest only officiated in his stead when he was absent.
Years afterwards, Asenath could not remember how she ever pushed through the solid walls of humanity to within a few feet of the Per-aa. To touch, unbidden, his sacred person meant death, and so he stood apart even from his queen in state ceremonies (afterwards, of course, the rule relaxed and his children could climb on the royal lap, or concubines might run fingers dipped in cooling water down his arms and legs).
The annual Festival of Machitha was at its high point when the Per-aa turned to greet the spot where the Moon would rise and then bestow a blessing on the people, a blessing for which they had endured hours of waiting along the ram-headed, sphinx-guarded avenue. One hundred and thirty four lotus columnns rose over one hundred feet high behind the Per-aa as he stepped up on a leopard-skinned dais. On it rested a throne of gold and ivory, and beside it a gilded chair for his consort-queen, Princess Ariadne. Per-aa Narmer was climbing the steps of the dais when a voice reached his ears.
At the sound, he spun and nearly toppled from the dais, his complexion turned ghastly and pale. Everyone trembled as Asenath stepped swiftly up the dais and touched the stricken Per-aa.
"Slay me for touching you, if you dare. You deceived me with your own oath. I am no longer bound by it."
Prince Narmer's weak features reappeared, agonized, from behind the smiling, royal mask. He was gasping for breath as he tried to speak to her, to plead with her to keep silence for Mizraim's sake. But he was stuttering so badly no words would come, simply syllables that sounded like the mindless chants of old men or women to ward off household snakes and scorpions.
Finding her spirit revived, Asenath turned to face the crowd, but she was looking beyond them toward the West. "I am the daughter of Lord Petepheres, Given of the Moon-God. It was he who told me the Dawn King, the first Narmer, gave our royal house the Secret of his throne, that it might endure forever, as long as the Ioteru flowed to the sea through the land of the red and black. He believed things spoken of would befall his throne and kingdom unless they remained a Secret. But if you will listen, you will see what you were meant long ago to see, and your eyes will be opened."
The crowds had come to be amazed, entertained, and blessed, not to have their eyes opened. Was she suggesting they were blind? But those who heard her were more astonished than disappointed.
Asenath's name and introduction meant nothing to the foreigners, the Mycenaean princess and her soldiery, but all the Mizraimites understood and waited, still as the Dead in the houses of eternity. A royal princess, she had every right to claim a hearing before Per-aa. So when no one dared step forward to stop her, Asenath spoke the Secret. The wiseman's warning seemed to speak again as it had once been spoken by a green-painted sage to the first Per-aa somewhere near the spot where Petepheres’s daughter was standing. Passed on by each dying Per-aa to a royal daughter or a living heir, the words evoked an ancient seer and a long line of fearful kings, who thought their power depended on keeping the oracle secret from the people. How well it had worked, until now! It was as if a thread were pulled and an entire tapestry came unravelled.
Uttering it, she had been struck by the meaning for the first time--it was no longer something old and full of indeciperable mystery. Suddenly, it came clear in her mind. The first pillar had to be Mizraim’s Pride--she was the granary of the world and possessed the most wealth. The second? Mizraim’s Glory--the Ioteru, monuments, chrysali, and royal palaces. Mizraim’s Hope? Her temples, priesthoods, and first-born. But who or what was the Fourth? The one that was the Unhewn Stone? The great being that was the “Son of One Most High,” “that had been and was yet again to appear”? There was still some mystery remaining!
Another clarity was just as astounding to her: the reason why the oracle had been kept for ages. It was because the secret oracle ran so counter to the thousand gods of Mizraim. No wonder the kings clamped their lips together, fearing the wrath of powerful priesthoods. And as long as they did that, their thrones were relatively secure, enjoying the support of established cults.
Having faced such wrath herself, she could put aside fear and no longer cared what they did to her. But the fourth pillar, what could it be? She thought and the meaning flashed into her mind. This “Unhewn Stone” that destroys Mizraim’s might, wealth, power and religions, had to be greater than any Mizraimite god. He had to be the Supreme God, and Joseph’s in particular! What else could be meant by the unknown, ancient seer? It really was too bad, a tragedy, that the Secret had been kept in the first place. The people desperately needed to hear the oracle. Was it their fault the kings conspired with the priests and had kept the saving alarum from their ears?
At that moment new words dropped into her thoughts.
Suddenly, the fullness of her understanding fell back upon her, grinding her with incalculable weight. Her knees nearly gave way as she reeled with shock and wonder. She knew then the oracle had ceased to be a trumpet-blast of warning the moment she declared it to the people and the would-be king; the judgement of the Almighty One had passed and fallen on her and the land. But was that just? After all, the oracle had been kept from the people’s hearing. They could not be held responsible for not heeding it. Or could they?
No, she decided, she could not defend her land. Though cloistered in a temple, she was not blind to her people’s ways. They had failed to help the wayfarers, making fun of their strange attire and talk, and taking every advantage with high prices and outright robbery. Widows too were fair prey to the greedy priests of the temples, who had great, revenue-producing estates yet always coveted more. As for the homeless children, they roamed the streets of the cities, starving and neglected in a rich society.
Irate shopkeepers drove them off with hired men, even killing some of them with clubs or by throwing them bound into the canals to drown or be eaten by crocodiles. As for the aged infirm and unwanted newborns, they fared no better. Into the canals and to the crocodiles they went! Great numbers of them were gotten rid of in this way--it wasmost convenient and the authorities looked the other way.
Of course, many households took more violent means and beat unweaned children, the ailing elderly, and paralytics and disabled to death after preliminary periods of neglect and physical abuse.
Particularly distasteful killings came to the public notice, but they were quickly disposed of in the kirbets by judges and elders who commuted the sentences to public service or a reprimand after money changed hands. Spousal slayings were treated much the same as the slayings of convenience. Fault was invariably laid on the victim, and anyone who objected had a tremendous burden of reversing a decision, since kirbets were generally hostile to such reversals.
Upper class, middle, and lower class, it made no difference--except that the lower class could not afford bribes and fared worse, with harsher judgements and even full penalties being exacted for crimes.
As for the rich and well-known, the nobility and the higher officials, a different standard applied because the people prized celebrity. Usually, the crimes of the upper echelons did not come to any kirbet, but if the parties involved could not prevent it, the whole society was treated to a spectacle.
Since lovers were commonly taken by both man and wife, that was not the issue in these cases. Rather, someone had to murder someone else--most violently. Physical abuse, however prolonged, was not enough. Anything that could possibly exonerate the known, guilty party was accepted, since justice was not the issue of these cases either.
The most favored walked away free, however scandalously they had behaved against the marriage pact.
Century after century, because of all these practices, no justice had been done to the most helpless, the infirm, the poor, and the abused. “...lest you...” had been utterly disregarded, not because they had not heard the oracle but because they did what they pleased, subborning even their own most sacred laws to do so.
All this they had done, and more, disregarding their own laws, customs, traditions, which spoke against such doings as attacks on Ma’at, the divinely ordained order of all life. Had they heard the trumpet blast? No! But they would have laughed at it even if it sounded in their ears, in plenty of time for them to turn back.
“No excuse! No excuse!” The words struck at her like Mycenaean axes and swords.
Desperate to avert the catastrophe she knew for certain was coming, she turned toward Prince Narmer, but her mouth was parched and no words would come. "Khian has told her these lies!" cried the prince, trying to salvage what he could of his royal position and dignity. "I tell you, it's not the Secret! Don’t believe that wretch! She is no such princess. We are not related. I have no cousin in her!"
How could they tell the truth of all this happening before their eyes? The people waited for him to settle the matter, but Narmer II continued to rant. “It’s no Secret if I tell it now to you, O people, so--so--take my royal word for it, it is not the Secret! It is not! I declare it is not! Don’t you hear me?”
Though he was not stuttering, no one believed him, particularly when the “wretch’s” royal name swept throughout the gathering. It was recognized as more ancient and royal than Narmer the Second's, for no people were so circumspect about royal lineage and precedence as the Mizraimites.
As Potiphar’s wife had discovered to her ruin, there was a storm already brewed for anyone who committed outrages yet couldn’t cover them with a thick cloud or good enough defence.
Imploring the multitude's favor in vain, the prince slowly edged backwards toward the throne but did not find his seat and sat down in a sudden fall that cast the entire assembly into an uproar. Instantly, the massed order dissolved into chaos, a pandemonium unknown in Mizraim. The people had failed to take the wiseman's words to heart, Asenath realized.
It had weighed them as with a scales, but they were too far gone to know it. Once the oracle had meant meant freedom and liberty to the people, an open road back to the Most High God. But the king and the priests had coveted their powers and made sure the Mizraimites understood their whole duty to God was social and political rather than a matter of the heart.
If One God ruled, they were rendered servants too of Him; that could not be permitted. So they favored and supported many, many gods, dividing the people’s allegience and, thereby, rendering them easy to control. And the people, growing corrupt, loved it have it so, denying the evident truth of the Godhead that was everywhere around them in the design and majesty of the creation. What they wanted in corrupt Per-aa’s, they got in every reign since the Dawn Kings.
Ma’at, the basis for a righteous society, was debased until it was mere order, with a few moralisms thrown in with the bargain.
Even now they weren’t concerned at all with the verity and claim of the oracle. It was chiefly a matter of state, culture, and governance. To them a throne without a Secret appeared no throne at all; that was the whole importance of the question at hand. Was the claimant entitled to rule without his Secret? Absolutely not! Since it had been declared and become public property, it ceased to be secret; therefore, the king’s legitimacy was rendered null, and the claimant was seen as a mere human being, no god at all.
The sudden collapse of the Per-aa’s claim swept the gathering with full force, exposing the sheer hollowness of the entire society. Mizraimites knew no meaning, had no identity, without a king in their midst--even if he were a despised foreign usurper.
Without a Per-aa to make all things run properly from the center throne on down to the lowliest malt-masher, the anchoring Ma’at-order was lost, and a panic seized on the vast numbers present. Cast adrift, they thought themselves drowning, and fought with thrashing arms against the storming sea.
Knocked to the ground as the confused crowd broke and swept over the Per-aa's dais, Asenath gthe trumpet-blower lay and was being trampled when strong, black hands lifted her and bore her away to a chariot.
Jizra lay a bruised and battered Asenath in the cushions he had gathered for her, taking care as he drove back to Avaris. Soldiers again allowed the chariot to pass (remembering the order of safe-conduct by an official who knew the royal name).
He had also caught a glimpse of the sickly Ibbathan pretender fleeing the mob as a common thief would run from pursuers. What marvel was greater than that, unless it was Lady Asenath addressing the multitude and declaring the Per-aa’s dreaded Secret to all?
Was the pretender still alive? Jizra wondered. For he had glimpsed the prince fleeing back down the temple road, people jeering and throwing clods of earth and flowers from torn flower-beds. Carrying the viziereine into the palace, he was met by an excited group of palace servants. Everyone fell silent as their master ran into the room and stood looking at his unconscious wife.
He took her carefully to a private chamber--as private as one could be in a vast palace full of servants. After he had called for physicians and directed the maid-servants to bring fresh clothing and medicines for treating cuts and bruises, Asenath was put in bed.
Jizra, as a chief charioteer, had the freedom to go. He had seen the world turn upside down in Machitha, and felt responsible for much of what happened. With heavy heart he walked (leaving the chariot and horses in charge of stable boys) away from the palace into the night. Feeling as if his world had turned upside down, he knew of only one place a Nubian could go . Turning in at his woman's door on the outskirts of the city, he knocked once, then two times. The thick-beamed door parted a crack, and then swung wide open, revealing in the lamplight a very fat and ugly creature of the female sex.
Slipping into the hut, he found his woman had been waiting up for him with a prepared meal of food and drink. He confessed his part in what had happened at Machitha. He had seen the Per-aa of the north kingdom disgraced and cast down before all the people!
Never had he thought such a thing possible. Per-aa Khian would never permit it, his soldiers would fight for him. What is more, the Grand Taty’s wife had spoken about a god coming into the land, who would destroy all the pillars of the land and set up his own.
Hearing these strange things, his woman tried to find words. Malt masher in a brewery, her simple mind and speech were incapable, but she had strong arms and powerfully enfolded him. "You only obeyed her orders. That is all you could do, my lord! Who will punish you for that? So if the soldiers are angry at what she did and come here to fight against us, you did nothing wrong. It was all her doing!"
In the early morning, Jizra left and returned to the palace where he was assigned duty; but his woman went off to work her last day at the brewery. She hummed a light tune of thanksgiving to her gods as she clutched at her breast her husband's gold ring.
No one paid the ka's plaintive cries any attention. The ka and its captors halted at the Western Gates to the Underworld. With no regard for his royal rank and station, he was then thrown into a corner of a roughly-hewn guardroom just outside the gates.
He had meant to raise a glorious temple to his spiny pet--now he had somehow become like it!
He stole glances instead at his guards. It was dark, but he could see that their huge, muscular bodies were bullish, with hands and faces resembling birds of prey. They were not in any way human, he realized, and so they could not be commanded to help him in the least act of human kindness. From them he could expect no sip of water for raging thirst, no morsel of bread, no relief of any kind for his distressful state of body.
What had happened to all the ceremonies and wonderful, magic spells that were supposed to attend the ka of the royal person? he wondered. He was afraid he might never be able to escape his captors and re-enter his embalmed body so that he could embark upon eternal life. Nothing in his training from the Book of the Chrysali had ever prepared him for the abject helplessness he was experiencing. And the unfriendliness and cruelty of his guards were dismaying.
Would they even listen to his carefully memorized Negative Confession? "I am the divine Per-aa, one of the eternal gods!" Narmer-ankh-Nebel cried out to his captives. "Let me go at once! The Lord of the Land of Red and Black must fly to the house of the gods!" he added.
Yet they turned and laughed hideously at his plaintive, squeaking noises. "Do you not know me?" he cried a final time before a beast-guard turned and struck away his speaking ability.