Miri had a hard time at first fitting into the routine of Philae after her return from Meroway. Several times she was sanctioned by the high priestess for unruly behavior. Somehow, after the excitement of her journey, the cloistered life just didn’t fulfill her as she had hoped it might. She had changed. She knew that much, but she did her best to try and fit in.
Luckily, she showed an aptitude for healing, and within a year, she was attached as a liaison to the College of Physicians. The college, run by Greeks to educate the magicians of Auset in the Greek arts of healing was heaven sent, and Miri took to the place like a duck to water. There in the medical study hall, Miri voraciously consumed the works of Hippocrates and Dioscorides and many others. As well, she discussed medicine with the Greek physicians who came to Philae from Alexandria and places beyond to learn from the great healers of Auset. Miri’s mind found a strange fulfillment in the philosophy of the Greeks and her heart was warmed by the beneficence of the Great Mother Auset. Her learning of Greek and ancient Egyptian nourished her in ways she had never imagined and she began to thrive in Philae.
It was in the Library, she discovered a limestone box. It had been sealed with lead, and when she asked about it no one else really showed much interest. She asked the head librarian if she could open it. The librarian sniffed, and peered at her over the stack of scrolls.
“Take it to the store room beside the stacks over there,” sniffed the librarian distastefully. “Be sure to close the door! I don’t want any insects crawling in here!” The box was too heavy to lift, and Miri could not move it, but a Greek seeing her struggle offered to help. His name was Andreos. She had spoken with him several times.
“What’s in here?” he asked as they carried it into the store room.
“I have no idea,” whispered Miri. She ran her hand along the seal, and noticed some writing along the side.
“Kemetic Hieroglyphs!” said Andreos, “And judging from the phrasing there, it is of great antiquity!”
“How great?” asked Miri.
Andreos shrugged. “I have never seen anything like it!”
“It says it is the property of the god Anpu!” she said.
Miri ran her fingers over the carved writing. “It says it is for the use of those in need in times of great need, and should be opened on the occasion of dire calamity,” she read.
Andreos licked his lips nervously.
“Is there a curse?”
Andreos seemed quite relieved.
“It says not to touch the items inside until the scroll is opened and read.”
The Greek’s nervousness increased. “Perhaps we should wait for someone else to open it!”
Miri smiled. “You’re not afraid are you?”
“Of course not!” replied Andreos indignantly, but looked about and announced he had a lecture to attend, and backed out of the store room as quickly as he could and still maintain his dignity. She cast about for a tool to open the box, and her eyes came to rest upon a garden hoe used to weed the garden in the Library atrium. She jammed the blade into the corner of the box under the lid, and pried.
The blade bent.
She worked the crack between the lid and the container, and got nowhere. She switched to a small stick. Finally, she managed to remove some of the lead, and found she could pick at it and peel the lead out of the gap. Finally, she could wiggle the stone lid, and lifted it clear of the box. Within the box there were a number of plain wooden boxes. Though they were not intricately carved, the workmanship of them was flawless. Three scrolls were wrapped in ribbon and sealed with the name of the god, Anpu. She slid the scrolls aside and lifted out one of the boxes. Hinged brass hooks kept it closed and she slid the hooks. Inside, each in a specially carved slot was a set of beautifully made brass surgery instruments. Some she recognized, some she did not.
She opened another. Immediately, she recognized it as a kit for the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony. Two vials, and two cups and the “adze of Anpu”. She was fasdinated. The other instruments were not funerary tools. There was no hook to remove the brains, and though the cutting knives were similar, she knew they were more delicate, and used on living tissue. She reached in and removed the adze.
Immediately, she knew it was not an adze. It looked very much like others she had seen in the internment houses, but it was a hollow tube. She lifted it to the light. The hole inside went right through. Her curiosity was immediately piqued and so she placed the adze-tube in its carved out slot and lifted out the white alabaster jar. It was sealed with wax, and she twisted the cap to break the seal and removed the stopper. There was no smell, but a white powder had solidified inside. She lifted a black onyx jar from the box and opened it. It had contained a liquid at one time, and had dried out. She put it back and examined the papyri. Each seal had the name of Anubis upon it. But one had a title written upon it. “The Opening of the Mouth.”
Miri opened it excitedly, and she unrolled it quickly and scanned the document. It was not the “Opening of the Mouth” ritual she was familiar with. And immediately, she realized the reason for the adze being a hollow tube. It was to be inserted directly into the mouth of the deceased, and slid down their throat, not just touched to the lips as was shown in the Books of the Dead. Miri was ecstatic. She read the scroll avidly. Used on a person recently deceased, the Adze of Anpu opened up not just the mouth of a patient, but also their throat, and by blowing her own breath into the mouth, the Breath of Life would pass directly into the deceased. It further described the potions to be used in the two jars, and how to prepare them.
“This will change everything!” she said out loud.
It was Mother Superior.
“This scroll!” exclaimed Miir, jumping up. She waved the scroll in front of the Mother Superior. “The ceremonies of the Book of the Dead are wrong!”
“That’s impossible!” said Mother Superior, “The ceremony was given to us by the gods!”
“But they’re wrong!” declared Miri, “They are as a child would copy their parents!”
The Mother Superior frowned.
“Well, perhaps we should take these documents to my office!” said the Mother Superior. “Then we can judge their importance!”
“Yes!” declared Miri and gathered the wooden cases and the scrolls together, and followed the Mother Superior down the halls, babbling excitedly about everything she read.
“Please!” said Mother Superior, stopping Miri. “This is not becoming of a Sister of the Order, Satemashteroth! We shall discuss this in my office!”
Once in the office, Miri read the scroll to the Mother Superior. “You see, it is to resuscitate drowning victims, and others that die suddenly! There is a way to bring them back!” she said excitedly. “Who knows what secrets are in these other scrolls!”
“Thank you for bringing them to me, Satemashteroth!” said the Mother Superior, who had maintained a rather strange edgy patience, “I will see that they are taken to the priests in the Funerary House!”
“No!” cried out Miri, “This should be in the hospice, not the Funeral Hall! We can save lives with this!”
“But this is the Adze of Anpu!” said the Mother Superior.
“It is not an adze!” shouted Miri. She frantically fumbled at the clasp and opene dthe box.
“Look!” she said, taking out the tube, “It fits inside the mouth!” She handed it to Mother Superior. “You see, it opens the mouth and the throat!”
“Very nice, dear,” said Mother Superior calmly, and began to put the tube back into the tube. Her grip slipped, and she dropped both the box and the tube. Miri cried out as the tube hit the granite floor and shattered. The vials in the box and the stone cups clattered on the stone, and both vials broke apart.
“Oh my dear!” declared Mother Superior as Miri screamed, “How clumsy of me!”
“You broke it!” Miri shouted, “You broke it!”
Without the actual artifact, Miri could not push her case with the healers in the Temple precinct, and they shelved the scrolls. To make things worse, she found one of the scrolls on the rubbish tip, but it had been ruined by fire and liquid waste. Her eyes filled with tears. “They are so stupid!” she said, fighting back her tears.
Her anger rose within her, for she saw that the Mother Superior had destroyed the tube of Anpu because it would have shown the priests of Kemet had all been wrong in their use of the Adze of Anpu, and that they were no more privy to the ears of the gods than the farmer in the field who poured out ablutions into the soil. As she cast about her, she realized the boxes had been dumped there as well. She began to gather the pieces, and noticed a woman watching her. Miri stopped for a moment to look back.
“What are you doing?” the woman asked, and joined Miri.
“You see this?” Miri held up a beautifully fashioned surgical knife. “These are the tools of Anpu!”
“Why are they here?” asked the woman, “And not in the Temple?”
Miri sighed, “Someone made a terrible mistake!”
“Can I help you?” asked the woman.
Miri smiled. “Of course!”
The woman was extremely adept at picking out the lost tools. She found the boxes also, and most of the instruments as well as the carved alabaster container for the “Opening of the Mouth” kit. While the woman dug out the instruments, Miri recovered pieces of the papyrus that had been in the sacred box.
“What are you doing with these?” asked the woman.
“I must save them!” she said, “But I am not allowed possessions!”
“If I kept them, would Anpu consider the act as an act of charity?”
Miri smiled, “It would!”
“I shall preserve them for Anpu!” declared the woman, “You will say a prayer for me, Daughter?”
“I will say a prayer!” promised Miri.
“My name is Ana, wife of the fuller!”
The woman gathered the pieces in her apron. “I shall keep them safe!”
She returned to her work, satisfied that she had done all she could to preserve the ancient knowledge. Her faith had been shaken, but the demands of healing soon pushed the matter to the back of her mind. She became known in the town simply as Sati, or Daughter, and was popular amongst all who met her, and her reputation as a healer grew. She had a magic touch, and all knew the Goddess smiled through her. Most impressive of all, by touching a pregnant woman’s ripening stomach, she could tell the sex of the child within. Her co-workers were awestruck by the uncanny aptitude for her divining, and Miri soon discovered, she could judge the fate of a person simply by holding their heads between her palms.
It was not a knowing in the sense of a flow of words or notions, but she sensed the length of time a person still held within them before they returned to the Great Mother. She could read the mark of Death, the call of Nepthet in a patient’s eyes. Or the blessing of Auset. A flower would blossom within her mind’s eye to mark the way of a cure. Or a tree would spring from the darkness, and the bark of that tree would bring the patient back to health. Or a root.
Or even simply she could dip into a quiet well of encouragement and caring that sprang from her soul without beckoning.
In the course of her work, she became acquainted with Setem, young man a year or two her elder. A strong attraction crackled like lightning between them. This caused Miri some consternation at prayer for when she was alone, her thoughts turned often to his handsome features, his dark eyes and charming smile. They were often together at the sanctuary for he acted as litter bearer. He came from a good family, but had no head for learning, but had come to study at Philae at his father’s insistence. Once he brushed against her breasts and she felt as though her knees had melted. It was all she could do to remain standing. After that, he touched her often, and although she was excited and pleased by his attentions, she always brushed off his advances, for they were sure to be noticed by others. He would suggest under his breath they retire to a darker place where they could get to know each other better, but though she was tempted, she always refused. She liked him for he always made her laugh, but her studies left little time for her to be with him.
True to his word, the Alabarch still sent extracts copied from the Books of Moses he held for her as he had promised. But he did not have them copied in a natural sequence, but selected passages, at first, seemingly at random, but never did she receive two the same, and she marveled as somehow every piece seemed to fit like hand into glove into the day she received it. Always he glossed over the copy in his own hand, adding his own circles or underlining and commentary.
She looked forward to the days she received a message from the Alabarch, for at times there was news from Yerushalayim, or Alexandria. Whenever she received a messenger, she would keep the papyrus until rest time in the afternoon, and retire to the shade of her favorite palm grove and read the text she received. When she finished, she would reread it slowly, one line at a time, until she drifted off to sleep. After a nap, she buried the papyrus in the sand for she could not return to the sanctuary with any belongings.
Soon she noticed strangely the pieces she buried disappeared and it caused her some wonder. At first, she thought perhaps she had simply been mistaken as to the burial spot, but she began leaving a stone or ostracum over the burial spot and soon found indeed, the manuscripts vanished. The mystery of the disappearing Hebrew texts tickled her mind, and at the most opportune of times, in matins and prayer, prevented her from concentrating on the Mysteries of Auset.
One day in the sanctuary, a man came to her and thanked her profusely for affecting a cure of his fever.
“I would not have lived were it not for your amulet!” he gushed.
“My-” asked Miri quizzically, “My amulet?”
“O Yes! It was most effective!” the man pulled a woven reed necklace from beneath his tunic, and dangling from it was a piece of the Alabarch’s scroll!
“Where did you get this?” she asked unbelievingly as she reached out and held the fragment between her thumb and forefinger.
“Why, from your assistant!” replied the man happily.
“My-” asked Miri, who had no assistant.
“That boy over there!” he cried pointing at Setem. “I paid him thirty drachmae for the grace of Auset. He said you had blessed it with magical chants. I myself have seen you moving your lips silently over them and burying them within the earth!”
Setem glanced up at that moment and moved away quickly. Miri turned briefly to the man. “Please excuse me,” she said, her face set, “I must talk to Setem.”
Her face was hot with anger. She caught up to Setem in the open courtyard.
“You have been stealing my scriptures!” she challenged.
Setem squirmed uncomfortably for they were in public. “Could we go somewhere a little more private and discuss this?” he asked weakly.
“What have you done with the money?” asked Miri angrily.
“Money? What money?” he asked, his voice cracking and scaling higher pitched than normal.
“I hate you!” shouted Miri pushing Setem with all her strength.
He staggered backwards, but lashed out with a fierce blow that landed on Miri’s temple with a flash of bright white. She staggered dazed and confused.
“Shut up!” he screamed at her and hit her again, his anger suddenly unleashed “Shut up! Shut up!”
She fell under the blow, and tried to scramble away from him, but he leapt on her, and pinned her painfully face down on the ground. Miri gasped.
Something deep within her growled, leapt from her very bowels and took command of her body. Her hips surged forward, catching Setem by surprise, and threw him to the ground. Snarling, Miri twisted and leapt on him, her hands scratching at his face. He held his arms before him to protect himself.
Suddenly hands pulled Miri from Setem, but she fought and kicked, aiming her blows at Setem, but finally she was wrestled to the ground, and she lay humiliated in the sand, tears dropping silently into the dry earth.
Setem was expelled from the college after the story came out, but he would not be able to leave until passage could be arranged to his hometown in the city of Kus. Until then he was confined to his cell. Miri was told she must stay in her own cell until the Reverend Mother called her for a hearing. She remained in her cell for the rest of the day, but she didn’t mind for she was too embarrassed to show her face. Several nuns visited her to offer encouragement, but to no avail. Her anger at Setem simmered, and bubbled into the night.
At breakfast the next day, Nefrit brought her a tray with bread and some cold duck. She sat on the bed beside Miri.
“You liked him, didn’t you?” she asked gently.
Miri nodded not looking up.
“He betrayed you Sati, and for that you cannot forgive him.”
Miri didn’t answer.
“I know how you feel,” Nefrit said and touched Miri’s shoulder. “But you must forgive yourself. There is no dishonor in trusting. If you place hopes and fears into another’s hands it is not you who is at fault when that faith is betrayed. It is not you who has failed. It is the other who has sinned!”
“But,” replied Miri turning to face Nefrit, “You don’t understand! I liked him!”
“Still?” asked Nefrit.
“No!” said Miri adamantly.
“Not even a little?”
Miri felt her resolve disappearing. She felt foolish, as throwing a tantrum was beneath her.
“Good!” said Nefrit, “Then you can start to eat again!”
Miri sat up. Too quickly. Her head ached and she touched her fingers to her head and felt a sharp pain above her eyes. Her head ached terribly. Nefrit produced a cool wet cloth and placed it on Miri’s head. “Don’t worry, Sati, we all love you!”
But the incident shook Miri and she began to feel more homesick, but the thoughts of home brought an image of old Elias blaming her for the misfortune of Shechem, and she thought of the disapproval Sister Miriam would exude at her foreign schooling and the disdain of Martha who never approved of actions which didn’t produce food or shelter.
She felt as a fish out of water, or more, the reverse, she was suffocating in the watery depths of the darkened temple complex. At these times she felt she was trapped within one of the tombs in the necropolis at Memphis. Despite her sense of fulfillment and the joy of her studies, she sometimes pictured her heart as a great stone, and not the feather of Maat she knew it should be. Somehow the stone cut her off from the earth, and often she discarded her papyrus sandals and walked barefoot in the street just to make contact with the earth beneath her. But it too did not seem quite all it should be. She felt isolated and could not fathom why. Soon it became impossible to ignore the nagging doubts the feelings imbued, and she felt compelled to talk about it at confession with the Holy Mother.
“It is natural for you to miss your homeland,” replied the Holy Mother behind the screen, “But you must remember that Auset is the Earth itself, and wherever you stand, she will be there to support you.”
“But Reverend Mother,” replied Miri, “I know she is the Earth, but I stop at my feet and feel I have no roots. Before I could reach into the Earth and feel the power of the Great Mother flow inside me. But since I have been here, though I am blessed, I have lost her love.”
“You want more!” answered the Reverend Mother.
“Yes!” whispered Miri, “I need to be possessed by Her! My heart aches for the end to my loneliness!”
The Mother Superior set her jaw sternly for she saw more than loneliness in Miri. She recognized the passing of the child and the fire of the woman awakening within Miri’s body. The fire was so strong in this one; she felt it kindling warmth in her own veins, reminding her of the passions of her own youth. But she also knew it must be channeled onto a pious and spiritual path, just as her own desires had been overcome, for such passion unbridled would send Miri into the depths of lust and depravity. Her task would be to tighten the restraints around this young woman and lead her on the Path of Righteousness.
“I shall connect you with the Green Lady, my child,” the Mother Superior said calmly, her own emotions in check. She had been surprised by the force of the desire she had felt, for she had not felt such passion for a long time. She realized she feared the young woman in the confessional booth, but she would have to isolate her so her passion would not infect the others in her flock. The initiation ceremonies to bring Satemastharath into the inner circle would begin on the morrow with the New Moon.