Takelot’s speech was very broken, mixing pidgin-Greek and his native tongue with some words he had just picked up from listening to the soldiers--for the man’s ear was like a sun-dried sponge. Yet with gestures, he could be understood, and Kassidoros nodded, then turned to other matters while the gopher scurried about looking for ways to make himself useful to the men. The captain, of course, had no idea the hireling had, in the native tongue, just called him worse than the offspring of a donkey--something closer to being the issue of a she-hyena coupling with a he-camel, though some slaves present heard and ducked their heads in silent laughter. They wouldn’t have dared laugh openly. Kassidoros was bigger than most foreigners. He was like the sacred ox, and his hands could easily snap a man’s neck when he squeezed it. Once they had seen him strike the side of a painted pylon, and the whole wall shuddered, and sheets of dust and paint came loose and cascaded down, destroying records that had been there for many hundreds of years telling of times before Misr when "White Land Kings" ruled the earth from the center of the "True Sea."
“Yes, Glorious Master, O Effulgence of Ra the Life-giver! Morning of fragrance to you! More pretty girls with sparkling eyes and shapely limbs? More wine of the gods and sweet honey-cakes? More musicians, dancers, and butter-fried fishes of the Great Sea from the inn? Just name it, and I will get it for--”
The man winced, then thought hard. “A lovely pleasure cruise! That’s it, sire! Buto, Sais, Basaris, Alexandria--these modern cities are nothing yet to the unspeakable glories I can show you up the Great River!” He rolled his eyes, describing the beauties they would see from a tall-sailed falcon-ship, and the wonders that the “Dawn Kings,” the double kingdom’s most ancient rulers, had erected, that would utterly amaze their eyes.
Takelot beamed, then bowed quickly too many times, and ran off to get things ready down at the river wharf that served the army. When that was accomplished, he ran back to the company quarters and called Kassidoros and his men to come forth, arrayed in their holiday best, to “partake of the elegant and eternal joys and wonders of the divine land of Kem.”
Grumbling, wearing the full war-time regalia of a Celtic chief (which is say very little clothing along with a lot of weaponry), the utterly bored and dangerous Kassidoros followed with his men. Takelot led them to the ship he had hired for them--which looked quite silly like all the others, flat-bottomed as a barge, the falcon god’s crowned head at the bow, evil eye on each side of the hull, and snubbed, “sacred” duck-billed prow to cleave the waves of the river and keep off the snapping jaws of crocodiles and river cows, with another “sacred” animal’s posterior and tail to supposedly “protect” their rear from the same evils.
The captain roared back, “No, I’m staying here just as I am, to catch the first breeze. Off with you!”
Now the captain was no man of mere words--he usually added a degree of physical force to give his words substance. A fist the size of a palm trunk thrust a fraction short of flattening his face, Takelot backed away diplomatically, and the voyage, at his sign, began, the native oarsmen pushing the craft away from the wharf once its mooring lines were released.
The current flowed north to the Great Sea, the prevailing winds blew south. They were heading south, upriver toward the ceremonial capital of Thebes, so the oars were useless. Unfurling the forty-foot-tall lateen sail, the craft began to move slowly against the river’s current, and the captain got no refreshing breeze as he had hoped since the wind came from behind. The better to see the gold-capped Houses of Eternity, ben-bens, palaces, quays, richly flowered avenues and towering temples, the ship kept close by the banks, where oftentimes the natives, which were mostly farmers out plowing with their cows, stood gaping wide-eyed at strange, nearly naked beings with fair skin and golden-glinting hair sailing on their sacred river.
“Takelot!” he bellowed. “Turn this excuse for a curragh around. I’ll tell you where it will go!”
“Of course, by your pleasure!” the sandal-lick agreed though his heart sank, it felt, right down through the deck.
After frantic instructions from Takelot, the ship turned, and the sail fell and was quickly pulled down, while the oarsmen went back to their places.
The current pushing them along, the breeze full in his face, Kassidoros felt much better, and pleased with his decision.
Now, with all the delta spread before him, with a thousand canals connecting with the river, he would decide where to go, and they might spend a week or more exploring the labyrinth of water and land mixed together like uncountable islands. Passing close to villages, they paused at the first of them and natives boated out to them and sold them anything they had on hand--fresh dates, wine, sweet breads with honey and stewed fruit pudding inside, and such.
The second day of the outing they left the ship to explore old temples that had been abandoned, but they found them hazardous, full of crocodiles, with serpents running up and down the columns. Kassidoros took his sword and chipped at a forgotten Per-aa’s image on one of the columns.
“Who was he--this old dead king of yours?” he asked Takelot idly.
Takelot swallowed hard, then his eyes brightened. “Not our king, Great Master. Maybe one of yours! He came from a wonderful foreign people like you, and his name was called ‘Khian,’ and [he was reading the column, having studied as a scribe for a year before giving it up for something more lucrative than a priest’s scribe] and his chief minister’s name was--”
Takelot’s eyes roved over the columns, seeking the best and most interesting account. His face grew worried. He stopped at inscriptions carved along with portraits of the pharaoh and his queen.
“Well, tell me of him then!”
“Yes, O Eternal and Beneficent One! This chief minister and Royal Signatory, the Grand Taty Joseph, whose canal has borne your ship here on watery wings, this great one not only dug the canal but saved my people--”
Kassidoros paused. “Howso? Speak quickly, or my heel will follow your teeth down your throat!”
“It was the time of the Years of the Hyena. The crops failed for seven years in a row. This man Joseph gathered much grain during the good harvests before the famine, and then he sold it for the king during the bad years, thus saving the people.”
Kassidoros shook his head. “Evidently, he was a man with many good heads in one, as you people say here. But is that all?”
“No, the king says this Joseph saved the world. For the famine took the food out of people’s mouths everywhere, and so they came here to the land of Kem to buy food, which the Grand Taty had stored in granaries all through the land on both sides of the Great River.”
Kassidoros, who had never heard such an account or of such a man before, returned to the ship to think.
Finally, he decided what to do. He knew his gopher could write as well as read in the old native script.
“I will go on with my men, then return for you, and you will stay here and write down all that you find here about the man Joseph. I want it all done for me, and I will pay you well for your labor, for I require your love because of my goodness to you, not merely your abject submission.”
A week later the ship returned, finding the spot with great difficulty, for it was much
overgrown in that time, and the temple was hidden in the jungle-like growth of reeds, palms, and vines.
Kassidoros grunted with disgust, ordered the man brought on board, and given wine and something to eat to restore his strength.
“Pfui, how you stink, Takelot! Scrub first before you read to me again. I want what you have written!”
Later, Takelot returned to his master’s presence, and began the reading of his scroll.
“This temple wrought by Lord Potiphar, servant of the Grand Taty of the King--”
“Yes, yes!” the captain broke in. “Get to the better part--where the famine began and the man saved the people and the nations. I want to know why he did it, and why anyone would care what happened to people, who are always starving anyway!”
Takelot seemed to take effront. “But Ineffable Breast of the Cow-Goddess! This man was different. He was not of my people, he came from afar, a slave sold into slavery by his brothers, and here he served a foreign god, one called El Elyon, the Most High God--”
This made no sense to the captain, and he waved his hand threateningly. “Slow down and read! I don’t want your words, I want them just as they were cut into the stone.”
Swallowing his own feelings, Takelot began as ordered.
When he was finished, Kassidoros remained silent, pondering the account.
“No man could be so good in heart,” he was thinking. “Yet his former master, this Potiphar the commander of the king’s palace guard, he testifies that this Joseph was good, despite the treachery of his brothers and despite what the commander’s own wife did to him, accusing him of assaulting he at home, so that Potiphar was forced by her testimony to cast Joseph into prison.”
His men, too, heard the account, and they sat and discussed it for long hours.
Finally, Kassidoros gave the order to go, and the ship was oared away from the temple of Lord Potiphar’s, which had not been dedicated to any native god but to the former servant’s worship, “El Elyon.”
Later, as the ship neared the fortress, Kassidoros turned to Takelot.
“Yes, for He was only One, and had no peers, as ours do in my land. The foreigners, the hikau Khasut and their confederates, brought Him here, and they took Him away, when they were expelled.”
“Expelled? After doing you so much good as you have described? You contemptible wretches!”
Kassidoros’s oxlike roar near blew the gopher off the deck.
The man dared show honest doubt after the commander addressed him with his name, restoring his status as a human being instead of a mere slave or dog. “I do not know, Great One! But a king of ours arose to restore our ancient glory, threw the foreign usurper and his people out, and we returned to our old gods and old ways. The inscriptions telling of this Joseph and his deeds and his god were also destroyed--but for this one, which was so hidden in the reeds and escaped notice, not being so large as the great temples along the River.”
Escorted to the per-aa, a secret meeting was arranged, as requested by the “gods.”
The per-aa was then told the reason for the visit.
“We have come to arrange for a transfer of a precious gift to Your Majesty,” the beings informed him. “It is too precious to tell your people about at this time, so what we say must be held in strict confidence.”
The per-aa, attended only by his Chief Cupbearer, nodded assent. After all, what could he do against gods--for such they appeared!
“We wish to give you a burning stone, a weapon that will look upon your enemies just as your eye gazes, and one glance will burn them up utterly!”
His expression prompted the visitors to continue. “You will use it according to the terms of the treaty with us. We will be given rule over the Earth, and you will exact the tribute--er, the sacrifices--that we demand from all the nations. We have chosen you to represent the Earth, and will hold you responsible.”
Wishing to know exactly how much the gods required of him under the treaty, the per-aa presseds the point as soon as he could.
“Noble Ones of the gods, I must ask one thing. What are the sacrifices demanded, and when and where shall they be offered unto thee?”
The visitors brought out a long document that itemized what the gods required. At the top of the list was “blood,” to be drawn and put in special wineskins so thin they could be seen through that they themselves would supply. The blood was to be kept cold until it was taken by the gods. Captives, too, were required.
The per-aa smiled at the homely image the Cupbearer called forth at the end of his appraisal of the treaty’s conditions. Feeling that all would go well, he turned back to the divine gods seated on golden thrones like his own--for he too was a god, was he not?
“Fellow gods, I will happily supply you with the pleasures and things you have favored us with in your requests. We will be happy to receive your gift of the burning Eye as well! I will call my scribes and they will set my seal to the document.”
The visiting gods smiled, and the document was sealed by the per-aa.
After the gods departed, the per-aa held another secret council with his Cupbearer.
“I charge you responsible to keep this treaty secret. The document must not be seen by others. Put it away in a safe place. When the Burning Eye arrives, I will deal with it. Now tell no one, on pain of death, about what I have said to you.”
The Burning Eye was delivered, not intact, but in a set of instructions. But the per-aa, skilled in putting things off, delayed the project. Eventually the plans disappeared somewhere into the vast, convoluted archives of the temples. It was never found to be the per-aa’s fault, when the gods confronted Ptolemeos on the missing plans for the Burning Eye.
Just as the per-aa hoped, the gods wearied of his promises to do something to get the project re-started once the plans were located, and they turned elsewhere.