Miri was comforted by her new regimen. She was to fast and remain in her room to prepare herself for the next step in her dedication to Auset. She was excited by the expectation of new revelations and comforted by her isolation for the embarrassment of her altercation with Setem could be avoided. She felt safe within the small room, protected by the massive stone walls from the trials of life. There were times when she hoped she would never return to the outside. Life was too cruel. It battered you about like a mouse between the paws of a cat, wearing you down bit by bit until all you could do was to crouch in fear waiting for the next blow.
Nefrit appeared at her doorway..
"The Mother Superior has called for you, Sati," she said simply.
Miri followed Nefrit along the huge corridors to the Mother Superior's chambers. The Mother Superior sat in of three chairs before a table upon which were spread several papyrus scrolls. Miri was surprised to see one of the priests of Ausar who tended the shrine of Ausar on the island of Biga sitting at her right shoulder.
"Ah, Satem Astharath, good of you to come. Please. Step forward!"
Nefrit melted into the corridors and Miri walked toward the Mother Superior's chair.
"Sit!" said the Mother Superior, indicating the remaining empty chair.
Miri sat dutifully. The presence of the priest disturbed her, for he was one of Setem's teachers. Had Setem told of his clandestine caresses, and Miri's pleasure in them? She was sure he had, for the priest was not as holy as the others, she was sure. This one, she could not remember his name, made her skin crawl whenever he was near. She knew he was not all he seemed, and a darkness wrapped around his soul. The two elders stared impassively at her and she squirmed nervously.
"I have spoken to others about you Satem," said the priestess finally, "and I am told you are a highly endowed healer."
"Thank you, Reverend Mother," answered Miri meekly.
"Also that you have made excellent progress with your reading and your penmanship is superb!"
"Thank you Reverend Mother!" replied Miri, flushing at the commendation.
"You have done well." The Reverend Mother paused, formulating her next sentence carefully. "I, however, believe you take too much pride in your work. That you do not perform it for the good of Auset but to feed your own pride."
Miri was too stunned to answer the priestess.
"And it was pride which led to the disgraceful display of anger in the sanctuary," said the Reverend Mother.
"But-" began Miri, but the priestess held up her hand for silence.
"Do not deny it! You cannot offer yourself as a servant of Auset if you give rein to your desires. You led the young man on in a most shameless manner-"
Miri gasped incredulously.
"I have decided," continued the Mother Superior, "to take you away from the school for a while so you have time to search your own soul for answers for why you should choose to remain here!"
"Please, I love my work!" protested Miri, "It brings me great satisfaction!"
"It is not for your satisfaction that you are here!" said the Mother Superior sternly. "You are here to serve the Goddess!"
"Please, I am not finished! You are headstrong, Satem, and have yet to learn humility! You cannot serve the Goddess while you are serving yourself! You must give yourself over to the service of the Neteru body and soul! Not one part of yourself must remain separate from this task! You can only attain enlightenment through self discipline and hard labour."
"But I work hard!" protested Miri.
"But part of you is still held back!" replied the Reverend Mother. "You cannot call yourself a true daughter of Auset unless you open your heart to her completely! As long as you have a will of your own, you will never have room for the will of the Goddess!"
Miri sat silent. She was on the verge of tears for she did not feel she had done anything wrong, and that somehow the admonishment from the Mother Superior was unjustly due to the fight with Setem. She was ashamed of the desire Setem had aroused within her, for it now seemed stupid and sordid, but surely the Reverend Mother didn't hold her responsible for the beating she received.
She sat silent.
"Tonight, you will sit in vigil in the shrine. You must plead forgiveness of the Goddess! If you are earnest in this task and your prayers purposeful, the Neteru will bless you with their presence!"
"Bless you, Reverend Mother!" said Miri excitedly, suddenly relieved. She was being given a chance to redeem herself!
"Sundown is in one hour!" said the Mother Superior. "Please see that you have bathed and are dressed appropriately! You are dismissed!"
It was all Miri could do to keep herself from skipping from the chamber. At the appointed hour, she stood before the portal to the shrine, dressed in fine linen, her head covered by the vulture headdress, the crown of the Goddess, her offering of incense in a bowl held in outstretched arms before her. She was adorned with the rainbow necklace edged in gold. On her arms the bracelets of Auset, around her waist, the girdle fastened by the knot of Auset. Behind her stood six others, three to her left and three to the right, holding the sacred cistra of Auset. Two of the six held lighted torches. As the last ray of the sun winked out, the doors opened sweeping the sweet smell of incense outward in their wake. The smell swept over Miri like a wave, and accompanied step by step by the chiming of the bronze cistra of Hathor shaken by six women beside her, she stepped forward into the complete darkness of the inner shrine.
Guided by the orange light of the torches, she approached the image of Auset reverently, and placed the bowl of incense delicately on the altar before the statue as she knelt before it. The priestesses who accompanied her moved slowly to the right and left. Two lamps either side of the sanctuary were lit. The rhythm of the ceremony slowed Miri's heartbeat, and the calm of the inner sanctum seeped into her limbs. She took a large breath and relaxed. She was home! The priestesses, the attendants of Auset floated in and out of her vision. Like wraiths, they scooped incense from the bowl and sprinkled it over the sacred flames of the lamps. Sweet-smelling fingers of smoke twisted and curled into the air, filling the sanctuary with a primordial mist. Miri was not conscious of the withdrawal of the priestesses until she heard the boom of the sanctuary doors close behind her.
She knelt before the image of Auset in a twilight consciousness, half sleep, half-waking. Her body was warm and her heart content. Time itself wavered, flickered as a flame, and visions of her life and her dreams wove a graceful tapestry into the darkness. Above all, the desert entered her thoughts. She imagined the desert itself was calling her. The parched land, dry and cracked seemed to yearn for her presence. The land was Ausar, dying from lack of life-giving water, and she, Auset, the living waters. She longed to spread over him, to bring nourishment to his parched lips, to suckle him at her breasts, to unite with him. Her soul must become his.
Suddenly, he stood before her, tall and strong. He was wrapped in swaddling, the flail and shepherd's crook held in either hand.
"Set me free, Satem Astharath," Ausar called out, "Unwrap my bonds!"
Miri sat unmoving, her mind stilled by the vision before her.
"Release me!" the god commanded.
Miri reached forward to touch Ausar, but before her fingers reached him, he called out.
"Stop!" he commanded quickly, before you can touch the Lord of the Underworld, you yourself must pass through. You cannot take with you into the west, your possessions of the Valley. Remove your crown!"
"Quiet, Satem Asharath, the ways of the Underworld may not be questioned."
Miri removed her crown, placing it beside her.
The god smiled.
"Remove your necklace!"
Miri reached behind her neck and unwrapped the clasp that held the collar around her neck.
Miri slipped the bracelets from her arms and wrists and laid them before her.
Miri loosened the knot and left the girdle slip to the floor.
Miri stood to slip her anklets from her feet.
"But-" protested Miri, knowing she wore nothing else beneath her dress.
"Quiet, Satem Asharath!" came the reply, "the ways of the Underworld may not be questioned."
Her tunic fell free from her waist.
Naked and bowed low, Miri stood before Ausar.
"Now, you may free me from my bondage!" said Ausar.
Miri reached gingerly to touch the living god.
Her fingers traced a light line across the bandages, and to her relief, nothing happened. Slowly she began to unravel the funeral bandages from the body of Ausar, first from about his neck. Then his fingers. As more flesh was revealed she began to feel aroused. Her touch lingered along Ausar's skin longer. She kissed his hand.
The bandages unravelled more quickly now, She pulled the cloth from his chest and ran her hands across the hard pectorals, pulling the bandages more forcefully. She stood close to Ausar, and could feel the heat of his body. The nipples of her breasts glanced against his and she felt a thrill as she had never before felt.
His hands reached around her and grasped her buttocks and squeezed tightly. Both Satem and Ausar moaned. She reached to kiss him but he pushed her away.
"You must remove all my bandages!" he declared huskily. "From the feet first!"
Satem knelt before Ausar and gently unbandaged his feet. The swaddling about his legs unravelled almost of its own accord. She reached between his thighs and pulled the cloth away from the flesh. The muscles beneath were hard and glistened with fragrant oils. Deep within her, the fire of passion glowed and burst into flame; she felt as she had never before, a strong tingling, an ache in her own loins, her whole body alive and burning.
As the cloth fell away from the loins of Ausar, his phallus rose before her, pushing through the bandages.
"You must breathe upon the lost phallus of Ausar!" said the god.
Gently Miri blew upon his penis and it surged to greet the wind of her breath. She blew upon it again and it pulsed again, growing larger and harder, rising to the feather softness of the air exhaled from the depths of her lungs.
"Take it in your hand!" commanded Ausar.
She grasped the penis by its shaft. It was oiled and her hand slid easily along it. The smell of jasmine and myrrh filled her nostrils.
"Yes!" cried the Lord passionately. "Yes! You must massage the phallus of Ausar. Only you, Auset, can bring it back to life! Breath upon it!"
Miri blew on the penis again and felt it pulse beneath her palm.
"Kiss it!" commanded Ausar.
Miri kissed the phallus of the god, and the taste of lemon and honey caressed her lips. She reached out to it with her tongue, and licked the phallus. Now, she tasted cinnamon mixed in the honey.
"Take it in your mouth!" said Ausar, "You must suck the life from deep within me! You must share the life force of Ausar!"
Miri slid her mouth over the head of the penis and sucked upon it. The hand of god, reached down and held her head against his loins and slowly began to move her head back and forth over the shaft of the penis. She gagged for a moment.
Ausar moaned, crying "Yes! Yes!" His hands slid to her shoulders, and Miri shivered at their touch. He pushed her backward, and his phallus slipped from her mouth, and trailed against her skin between her breasts. Ausar lowered her to the floor, his arms wrapped about her. The phallus slid down her belly and as her back touched the floor, dropped between her thighs. Her skin tingled at his touch and she pressed hard against his body. He clasped her breasts in both hands and his lips travelled across the nape of her neck, across her shoulders and to her nipples. He sucked at the nipples and Miri moaned. The pleasure of the sucking at her nipples took her by surprise, and she pushed up against Ausar.
Her world became only herself and Ausar. Her eyes closed and she felt Ausar wash over her like the waters of the rising Nile. Everywhere he touched her, her body sprang to life. He was the son-lover of the Great Goddess, suckling from her breast one moment, and driving deep into her womb the next. He was the farmer plowing the field, the shepherd carrying his lost lamb, the hot sun warming the land! From deep within her, a white-hot light blossomed like a flower spreading outwards from the depths of her soul, and the ecstasy of union burst onto her washing like waves upon the seashore. Each wave carried her further and further from the here and now, until, shuddering uncontrollably, in an orgasmic rush which lasted an eternity, she became the light.
She was not conscious of her return to the sanctuary. It seemed to be the settling of a feather onto the floor, a gradual shift from the white hot light to the cool darkness of the shrine, a subtle shift from soft warmth to the hard cold marble floor, from the contented oneness of being with the god Ausar to lying alone and naked before the statue of Auset, her clothes and jewellery scattered around her.
She had fallen asleep. Now she was awake, she could not remember if she was to keep vigil all night, or was she to sleep and dream. The vision of Ausar was still strong within her mind, and she ached to tell someone of her experience, but now she was alone, she did not think the Reverend Mother would be the one to share her vision with. Nefrit perhaps. There was a streak of the carnal in Nefrit; a passion that seemed to slip from beneath the chasteness imposed by the convent. As chastity was one of the prime demands of the order of Auset, Miri suddenly felt guilt at the force and passion of her vision. But could she lie? What would she tell the Reverend Mother?
Quickly she gathered her clothes and dressed. She did not want to be found naked in the holy shrine. She was sure it would cause a great scandal. As she picked it up, she realized the headdress was damaged. The horns of Auset-Hathor had broken off the crown. She was in the process of trying to put the crown back together when the great door to the sanctuary opened and the Reverend Mother and her priestesses stood before her.
"I-" began Miri, holding out the two pieces of the headdress.
The Mother Superior motioned to two of her entourage who moved forward silently and took the pieces from Miri's hands.
"You will await my summons in your room!" commanded the Reverend Mother in a withering tone. "You are not to attend prayer service until I have spoken to you!"
Miri hung her head, feeling guilty more because the attitude of the Mother Superior than anything she had done. Ashamed, she left the sanctuary to return to her cell. Through the hallways, she passed other sisters on their way to prayers, and they all turned and stared at her, whispering to each other. Her ears burned, and she was sure they were talking about her. She dismissed the thought as the result of her overwrought imagination, but it was all she could do not to run the last few steps to her cell. Relieved, she sat down on the stone bench and closed her eyes, wishing the walls of the temple would melt away to nothing and take all the other sisters with it.
Nefrit popped her head in.
"I have come for the ceremonial garments!"
Miri began to slip the jewellery from her wrists and ankles.
"My Satem, what have you been up to?" asked Nefrit mischievously.
"What do you mean?" asked Miri nervously.
Nefrit laughed. "Your necklace is on backwards!"
Miri looked down in horror. Sure enough the clasp faced outwards! She had tied it but not turned it right side out. Nefrit unclasped the collar and slipped it from Miri's shoulders. The girdle was not tied with the Sacred Knot of Auset, but in a hasty bow.
"You have been in a tizzy, haven't you?" commented Nefrit, as she untied the sash.
Miri said nothing. Suddenly, she realized her dress was inside out! Her face burned with embarrassment. Everyone she passed must have noticed! She knew there would be tongues wagging, for she had passed many of the sisters on her way back from the sanctuary, and now she realized they must have all seen her disarrayed state. She wished she could shrink into nothingness and never return.
Miri could not be sure Nefrit had noticed her dress for her friend had said nothing as she took the ceremonial garb and handed Miri a newly washed linen gown. Bells echoed through the hallways signalling the beginning of prayer.
"I must go!" said Nefrit. She gathered the ceremonial clothes and jewellery in her arms and gave Miri a kiss on the cheek. "May Auset bless you, Sister!" she whispered and vanished into the gloom of the convent. Miri stood alone.
The cistra began chiming in the far distance, the sound muffled by the expanse of stone that lay between her and the sanctuary. Miri knelt and clasped her hands, her elbows resting on the stone bench. She closed her eyes tightly. Flashes of her night with Ausar stabbed into her psyche. The touch of his lips upon her breast. The surging of his buttocks as his loins pressed deep into hers. The feel of his skin squeezed beneath her palms. The thoughts aroused her, and she opened her eyes and caught her breath. She was intensely aware of her nipples hardening beneath the soft linen of her dress. The tensing of her muscles in her vagina. Why did she feel so guilty?
She stood up and paced the floor of her cell. She could not stay in the tiny room any longer! She wanted to get out of the temple. It was a tomb! She needed desperately to run free in the hills beneath the sky, the sun shining upon her in the day and the moon beaming at her through the night! She poked her head into the hallway.
It was deserted.
Quickly she stepped out of her papyrus sandals and padded barefoot toward the cloister. It was the closest place where she could see the sky! She would go into the garden and gather herself together! As she passed a cell, another nun looked up in surprise from her prayers as Miri passed by. Their eyes locked for a moment, and their thoughts flowed between each other in an instant and she was gone. As she approached the pillars of the cloister, she heard boys laughing. She stopped, for she did not wish to be seen. She could hear one of them talking, and she realized the voice was that of Setem.
".. so I said, 'You must suck the life from deep within me! You must share the life force of Ausar!'"
A chorus of laughter greeted his tale, and Miri covered her face with her hands in horror as she realized Setem had tricked her into making love to him. Her thoughts stopped and she was frozen on the spot.
"Then I fucked her!" The force of his words crushed Miri's heart. She could feel it bleeding.
"It was worth every drachma I paid the priest! She was so good!"
Every one would know! Her face burned; her shame was greater than she could have ever imagined! She wanted to run, but she was frozen to the spot. She listened in unimagined agony as Setem described every moan and sigh in lurid detail, degrading everything she had done. Each burst of laughter from the other boys cut her like a knife until her insides were shredded and raw. She had never known such pain! She had never known such betrayal!
Hot tears of shame ran down her cheeks burning away the flesh of her face, until she felt her insides were exposed for all the world to see. There was a sound of voices approaching the cloister and the boys broke up their cabal and to Miri's horror, Setem and two others walked right past her.
Setem sneered at her.
"Hot pussy!" he said, making lewd movements in her direction with his hips.
The two other boys laughed.
At that moment, Miri could not believe she had ever found Setem attractive. The heat of anger exploded within her heart and she swung wildly at him with her fist. She landed a blow on Setemís nose and his eyes watered and his hand flew to his mouth and covered his nose. This brought on hysterical laughter from the other two. Their laughter attracted the rest of the boys and it seemed a hundred faces around her were laughing. Her plight was being used for their amusement. Setem bent over crying to the others his nose was bleeding. Amongst the loud din she heard someone shout she should try again, only to hit harder.
It was the final straw and her mind snapped like the camel's back! She whirled about, and in one magnificent movement pulled the ceremonial double headed axe from its place by the doorway, and swung it about her head. The boys shouted in surprise and stumbled over each other to avoid the shining deadly arc of the bronze blade. Miri faced the semicircle of boys and snarled at them. They stepped back and she advanced menacingly, thrusting the axe at their stomachs. A few laughed nervously.
Setem stood up, still holding his nose.
"I hate you!" she snarled at him through her clenched teeth.
He smiled, amused by her.
"You have a funny way of showing it!" he taunted, making kissing noises with his lips.
Miri screamed and swung the axe at his grinning head. In a spray of bright red blood that splattered her face and arms, his face suddenly disappeared, and Setem's headless body slowly went limp then collapsed in a heap like a pile of discarded clothing crumpled on the floor. His head rolled to a stop at one of the boy's feet. Blood spurted from the headless neck and formed a deep black pool on the polished granite
Miri froze in shock. So did the others. But it was she who recovered first. She had to get out! Leave the temple! With no other thought, Miri pushed through the group of boys who backed against the wall to avoid her. She threw the axe down and fled from the cloister. Her feet grew wings and she flew from the temple! Tears streaming down her cheeks mixing with the blood of Setem, she was oblivious of the stares from people as she pushed through the outer courts.
She ran and ran and ran! Through the market place. Past the houses, beyond the walls! Everywhere, there were people! She had to get away! To hide! Beyond the green gardens! She had to get off the island and into the hills of the desert! She ran down to the docks.
There, she recognized a ferryman standing unoccupied, and approached him.
"I must go to the western shore!" she exclaimed breathlessly.
He looked at her in surprise, but recognizing Miri as the woman who had predicted the birth of his son and aided his wife in a difficult delivery, bowed before her. "Of course, Satemashtoreth!"
"I- I have no money!" said Miri.
The ferryman froze in mid bow, his eyebrows raised. "No money?" he asked quizzically.
"No." said Miri. From the corner of her eye, she saw two of the boys she had confronted in the temple emerging from the outer temple courtyard.
"But I shall bestow a blessing upon you and your family in exchange, and sacrifice to Auset on your behalf!" she added quickly.
The boys had spied her, for they were pointing in her direction, gesticulating to a priest who squinted in her direction.
Remembering the service Sati had rendered he and his family, he recovered and, a little reluctantly, replied, "Then I shall ferry you across!" He motioned for her to enter his craft.
"Perhaps we could wait for a paying customer," he suggested hopefully.
"There is no time for that!" she said sharply, and clambered aboard with amazing alacrity.
The ferryman, however, moved with painstaking slowness.
"Come! Come!" cried Miri, "There is no time to dawdle!" She grabbed him and yanked him unceremoniously into the boat, and untied the bowline herself. The little craft moved slowly out into the channel. A crowd had begun to descend toward the dock they had left, but thankfully, the ferryman, deaf in one ear, was oblivious to the distant shouting. As the sail unfurled and bellied out in the wind, it blocked the ferryman's view of the island. The waters of the Nile slipped beneath the hull and the boat hauled for the western shore.
As the boat rounded the nearest island, Miri glanced back to Philae. The crowd had reached the docks and it appeared a boat was being readied for launching.
"So what takes you to the Western Shore?" asked the ferryman.
"I must make an offering to the Dead," answered Miri quickly.
The ferryman looked at her dubiously. "But you have no offering with you."
"I- I must perform a service there!"
The ferryman was still not wholly convinced, but he held his peace. Miri peered under the unfurled sail anxiously. A small flotilla had embarked and was descending upon them. Several arms extended from the pursuing craft and sharp spear shaped paddles flashed in the water. Miri glanced quickly to the western shore, and she knew she would be overtaken before she could reach it.
To starboard, the sacred island of Biga passed smoothly, the papyrus reeds tantalizingly close. Suddenly the ferryman turned. He had heard the shouts from the boats gaining upon him from behind, and he turned to Miri in surprise, but before he could open his mouth to question her, she threw herself overboard and struck out for Biga.
The current pulled at her robes and dragged her beneath the surface. She struggled desperately as her mouth filled with water. The soaked clothing pulled at her like some amorphous octopus, her arms and legs were hopelessly entangled in their folds. She gasped for air, and choked on the water. She screamed but the water muffled the sound. She thrashed furiously at the clutches of the heavy cloth. Her arms broke free, but her legs were more tangled than ever. She fought to bring her head above the surface of the fast moving water.
She exploded from the Nile. She caught a glimpse of the astonished ferryman, and a brief glance of her pursuers bearing down upon her. She heard the cry of "Crocodile!", and in a brief moment before her clothes dragged her under, she saw the huge bulk of a crocodile plunging into the river from its sunning perch on the shores of Biga.
The cloth suddenly pulled hard at her ankles, for it had caught on submerged rocks under the surface, and the current pulled her head downwards. A last desperate kick released her from the grip of the cloth and she spluttered to the surface. A hand reached for her and she squealed and slipped away from its reach. She dove beneath the surface and her shoulder scratched against the hull of a boat. She pushed against it with all of her strength. She could hear the muffled shouts from the vessels above her. A paddle smacked the water just above her head and she froze in shock as the gaping jaws of the crocodile glided a few inches past her face. The jagged teeth snapped shut on the paddle and the water exploded into a thrashing frenzy as the crocodile shook the paddle. The breath was knocked out of her as the giant reptilian tail struck her ribs. Her head broke water long enough for a brief gasp of air, and she squirmed frantically to avoid the thrashing of the crocodile engagin
Miri took a deep breath and dove beneath the surface. She kicked hard and pulled through the water was among reeds, and suddenly she realized she had almost made the shores of Biga. Her feet touched bottom and she pulled and squirmed through a papyrus thicket. She wriggled through the fetid mud and the matted rotting mulch of the papyrus marsh, and like some primordial amphibian, pulled herself upon her stomach onto the island of Biga.