“We are traders from Libya, and have come from the upper reaches of Ethiopia carrying ivory and gold for trade at Elephantine.”
The man was gruff and his eyes seemed to stare a challenge from within his huge black beard and curly hair. The rest of his companions were an unsavory looking group, more weasels and rats than men. Ayamu stood his ground against them, dressed in his official uniform of a border guard. His helmet glistened in the sun and the reflected light seemed to come from within him, causing the men to hold up their hands to shade their eyes from the radiance. A short sword dangled clumsily from his hip and betrayed his unfamiliarity with wearing it and the eyes of the pack of men before him narrowed their focus upon it, gauging the danger and dismissing it.
“As an officer of the sovereign state of Egypt, I must take your names and tax your goods at a rate of no less than five percent. You will receive my receipt and be allowed passage into the Two Lands,” Ayamu announced. He felt foolish, but this was the be-all and the end-all of the reason for his being there.
Like a pride of lions laying in wait for an antelope, the men stepped aside for Ayamu to examine their packs. The first baggage mule carried nothing. Ayamu searched the empty bales, but found no trade goods. And the second, and the third. All that time he said nothing, but the absence of goods betrayed the veracity of their purpose, and he knew he had to address it.
“Y- You have no trade goods!” he said uncertainly.
The large bearded man, the leader, shrugged. “I did not say we were good traders!” The others laughed and then, with a menacing smile he suggested perhaps Ayamu had something he could trade.
“Me? What could I trade?” Ayamu asked nervously. He did not have the imposing presence he wished he had, and sensed he was losing authority with this group.
“Let’s search your tent and find out!” declared the bearded man, and his companions stepped forward.
“No!” Ayamu lowered his spear defensively against them, and they halted for they could see he knew how to handle the weapon.
“You are welcome to water, but you will be on your way!” he said firmly.
As he spoke the men fanned out before him, and he knew his position was tenuous.
“I think we’ll just take a peek inside, just the same,” said the leader of the pack.
At that moment, they heard a sudden hiss of air, and one of his men dropped to his knees, an arrow shaft in his chest. He looked down in surprise and reached up to remove it, but toppled forward onto his face. The shaft cracked and the head of the arrow poked up through his back.
The men stared in shock at their fallen comrade.
“Be on your way!” Miri called out fiercely. She stood at the entrance of the tent, her bow drawn and an arrow aimed at the large bearded man.
“As soon as we water our horses-” he began, his manner as smooth as ever.
‘Now!” said Miri, “You have forfeited your right to our water!”
Not doubting for a moment she would shoot him, the man smiled and mounted his horse. The others followed suit and they turned their animals away. Miri walked toward Ayamu as the strangers rode off.
“They’ll be back!” she said to Ayamu, who nodded in agreement.
For the rest of the day, they dismantled their tent and buried all their possessions. They were terribly outnumbered by the desert bandits, and knew the men would return under cover of night for there was no other water for miles.
Finally, with a last look about the oasis, they herded their sheep and goats, and headed for the hunting grounds where they could hide amongst the rocks until the bandits had left.
Allowing the dogs to herd the other animals, both Miri and Ayamu followed behind and swept away their tracks as best they could. It was well after sunset when they came amongst the rocks of the hunting ground.
The animals drank their fill at the muddy water hole, but the strange feral smell of other animals made them nervous and skittish. Both Ayamu and Miri felt their nervousness as well, for their plucky little band was vulnerable to predators, whether they were man or beast. By dragging dried-up thorn brakes, they managed to create a small kraal in which to shelter the sheep and goats. Miri and Ayamu sat in the opening flanked by Anubis, Al-Anna and Demeter. She unclasped a wineskin from her shoulder and drank a deep draught. She handed it to Ayamu, who refused, but then as she pushed it to him a second time, he took a large gulp.
“Thank you,” he said.
“It takes away the edge,” said Miri.
They drank wordlessly, and Miri drank more than she should have, for killing the bandit had brought unpleasant concerns about Setem to the front of her thoughts. She had now killed two men! The unreality of her actions had brought upon her the feeling she was in a bad dream and would, at any moment wake up in her family bed in Shechem. She drank to quell the nagging fear and guilt that would not be silenced within her, and as the warm glow of the wine spread through her, the voices in her head were drowned in the purple liquid.
She felt the heat of Ayamu’s body pressed against her, and she longed to have him press his lips over hers, to be swamped by the pressure of his body pushing her down into the ground, his penis plunging deep inside her, sweeping her away on a tide of passion and ecstasy. Aroused, she climbed on top of him and nibbled his neck....
Her head ached, and she groaned. It had been a hard night.
Miri stormed, or rather staggered away from the kraal to the hunting grounds, in a fit of drunken rage at Ayamu’s refusal to make love to her.
Al-Anna, the thin brown mongrel had padded after her, her bright brown eyes staring unflinchingly into her very soul. In a drunken haze, Miri had thrown a stone at the small bitch, but the dog stubbornly remained with her. Miri could not stand the reproachful look and had sworn at the dog until she passed out in a small cave in the mountainside.
Her own smell disgusted her. She had spilled wine down the front of her dress. Her hair was matted and an oily coating half-dried and caked and covered her skin. Dried blood scraped between her thighs and her mouth was dry and raw. The sour smell of alcohol wafted from deep within her stomach and sullied her sweat. She moved slightly without opening her eyes, and the sharp odor of urine filled her nostrils. She sat up suddenly and rolled over on her side and began to vomit.
The dog scampered out of the way, then returned and began licking the vomit from the ground. Still retching, Miri pushed the dog away, and in the process, threw up over her hand and forearm. She crawled away from the pool of vomit, and threw up again.
The dog whined and pawed at her. She made a halfhearted attempt to push the dog away, but she missed and fell flat on her stomach. She rolled over onto her side and was racked by dry heaves. The heat rolling over her told her it was close to mid-day, and with a great effort, she hauled herself up to a sitting position and wiped her hand on her dress.
She held her head in her hands, resting her elbows on her knees, afraid to open her eyes, for her head hurt terribly. Finally, she stood up and steadied herself with one hand against the cave wall. She turned as she remembered to pick up the terra cotta jar. She shouldered the jar and wobbled out of the cave and into the sunshine.
The brilliant white-hot light jabbed instantly into her retinas, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
“O,” she moaned, “Mother of God!”
The heat was stifling. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She set out staggered doggedly for the kraal, the thought of the cool waters giving her incentive to keep placing one foot after another. She closed her eyes against the sun most of the time, opening her eyelids just slightly enough from time to time to keep her bearings on the distant oasis.
As she neared the clearing where they had erected the kraal, the sound of men laughing snapped her eyes open. The travellers were few and far between, and seemed to be lost souls themselves. No one spoke of their business when they arrived and none stayed more than the one night. In all, Miri could count the arrivals on one hand.
So the sight of several armed men holding up cloth from her tent rooted her to the spot. Her scalp and skin tingled, the hairs on her body standing out, seeking information from the air like the antennae of a trapped insect on a spider’s web. Miri knew she was in danger, but exposed, out on the desert sand, she had nowhere to hide. The men’s attention turned to her moments after she saw them. Her first instinct was to run, but she knew flight was useless.
She was suddenly ashamed of her condition, and her hands smoothed down her dress, and she adjusted her robe, but there was no hiding the mess she was. Miri wished the ground would just open up and swallow her whole. She could not face these men in her filthy clothes, smelling like a drunken sot, which she realized was what she was. Her embarrassment was total, and she stood paralyzed by it.
A huge, dark bearded man approached her. He was dressed in desert robes, scabbarded sword and daggers hung from the crossed belts about his stomach. Miri swayed where she stood, her hangover tilting at her equilibrium.
“Who are you?” she asked hoarsely, her throat was dry.
He stared at her in disgust. “You are the maid servant of Ayamu?”
“I” replied Miri, in a tone she had intended to be dignified, “I am his wife!”
The man snorted. “If you are his wife, I have done him a favour!”
His manner sent a shock through Miri.
“What have you done with him?” she asked.
“Come and see!” snarled the man and grasped her by her wrist. Al-Anna snarled and leapt at him, but the man easily kicked the mongrel away. The poor bitch squealed in pain and retreated, her tail between her legs, and a regretful look of apology to Miri in her eyes.
The man dragged Miri roughly by the arm, and she staggered several times, to which he responded by yanking her violently to her feet. Miri cried out, but he showed no sympathy to her and her cries only seemed to irritate him. As they approached the group of men gathered round her tents, she screamed in horror. The body of Ayamu hung by his feet from a small sycamore, his blood drained from a thousand cuts and scratches into the sand.
She lost all control and struggled fiercely, biting and clawing at her captor, and one of her bites found its mark in his arm and he dropped her. He kicked her and her head explode in searing white pain, but she scrambled to Ayamu’s lifeless body. She grasped the corpse by the shoulders and shook it violently. The rope suddenly snapped, and her lover’s lifeless form crumpled on the ground.
She wailed in agony and collapsed over Ayamu’s back. She turned him over and cradled him in her arms.
“I’m sorry!” she whispered to him, as she smoothed his hair and stroked his cheek “O Mother of God, I’m sorry!” Her only awareness of the men standing around her was a forest of legs. They watched dispassionately, not willing to share in her agony, and not caring enough to stop her.
“Clean her up!” ordered the large bearded man, “She will fetch a good price I’ll wager, if she can be washed and dried out!”
Miri was numb. She was handled as livestock. One of the men stripped off her filthy clothes, and the men about her grunted in admiration of her fine figure. She felt hands groping at her breasts and buttocks. One man bent to bite her neck, but her smell drove him off, and he threw her headlong into the oasis pond. Miri choked on the water, but the cool fluid revived her and she struggled away from the men. One of them dived in after her and grasped her legs, pulling her towards him.
She knew she was in deep trouble now, and that taking to flight had aroused the hunting spirit within the men who had killed her lover. She kicked out at the man who held her legs and broke free from his grasp. She stood up in the thigh deep water then whirled to face the others as they clumsily descended the opposite bank. Her hands held out like claws, she crouched down and snarled at them in defiance.
Faced by impossible odds, and surrounded by the bandits, Miri suddenly felt empowered. Alive! Her blood coursed hotly through her arteries, and she felt her canine teeth as if for the first time; they seemed longer, stronger, and her throat thirsted for the blood of these intruders in her world!
The five men stopped at the stream’s edge, and shouted back at their companion in the water. They had her cornered, and they bayed across the water, their voices competing with each other, egging on their hunting partner in the water with Miri to close in on his quarry.
The man who faced her was not so certain of his superiority, now she faced him. He sensed the change in her and licked his lips nervously. He had no wish to attack her from the front, but the taunts of his fellows gave him now choice. He lunged at her. Miri neatly sidestepped his advance, and punched him in the head with all her strength. Her enemy fell stunned face first into the water, and she leapt on his back, her hands grasping his throat. Snarling like some banshee wild cat, she squeezed as tight as she could and shook him ferociously. Her thighs wrapped about his thorax, and gasping, the man exploded from the water, bucking and reeling like a wild horse. Miri clung tightly to him, a leopard on a kudu, her head pulled back to avoid his desperate blows. Her prey fell again and they both plunged beneath the water. He struggled beneath her; she could hear his muffled cries through the bubbling water, and she slid her arm about his neck and pulled upward in a short violent jerk, and the man’s head snapped. He went limp and the life fled from his body. In an instant, Miri could feel her life force, his soul, enter into her, and she was filled with exultant fury! She burst from the surface flushed with victory.
The men on the shore were stunned to silence as Miri faced them, her battle cry screaming from the depths of her lungs.
Suddenly, unable to contain himself at her challenge, one of the younger men threw himself into the water. With a great deal of effort he bounded towards her. The others, one by one followed his lead, hesitating, then flinging themselves into the water. The great bearded man who had been occupied tallying their booty appeared on the crest of the sloping shoreline.
“Be careful!” he called to his cohorts, “If you bruise her, her price will drop!”
But the man knew it was too late. The blood lust was upon the pack. None of them gave any more thought to their own personal safety; they were propelled forward by the need to protect themselves as a single entity, of which they were all a part.
The air filled with the cries of Miri and men. Two closed in on her flank, but were driven back by a furious rain of kicks. She kicked and slashed and punched with lightning speed, screaming in rage at her adversaries, but she was terribly outnumbered and was beaten back by the pack of men. Miri fought valiantly, but hopelessly outnumbered, went down beneath the rain of blows.
They dragged her into the shallows, a man on each of her limbs, and she struggled desperately to free herself, but this time they held her fast. She no longer was a woman, a rational, thinking being, but a primeval force impelled by fear, desperation and anger. They held her down in the sand and one by one raped her. She cried and snarled, but her struggle only seemed to excite them. Her flesh stung cruelly where they had bitten her, where their fingernails had gouged jagged furrows in her skin, and warm blood welled up from a thousand cuts, until she was barely aware of the individual wounds and abrasions; her entire being consisted only of pain. Fingers dug into her breasts, her arms and legs stretched beyond endurance. They battered her vulva to a bloody pulp. Laughter filled her ears as they pulled her about like a terriers on a rabbit. Somewhere, someone pushed the sharp stinging blade of a knife into her side, and in an explosion of pain and horror, her soul left her body.
Miri passed into darkness, yet the men still squirmed at her senseless body growling and panting, until they were spent of their lust. One by one, they wandered away from the motionless body, straightened their clothes and gathered their belongings and collected their spoils.
They were sobered by the fury of their own lust. There was an undercurrent of knowledge they had sinned, but the guilt was thinly wrapped about their souls, and nervous jokes about the woman’s juiciness and heat spattered their conversation, lightening their deed, until soon the darkness passed and they recovered their sense of rightness.
They slaughtered a goat, and spilled the blood out onto the sand as prescribed by their gods. They roasted it on an makeshift altar built of stones, and after a merry meal, loaded their donkeys with the tents and valuables of their victims, mounted their desert steeds and rode into the desert, joking and laughing. As their voices faded into the distance, the bearded man berated his companions for ruining such a fine slave, and they all laughed at him, and told him he should have been an accountant.
The crimes of the day were forgotten.
The soul of Miriam of Shechem floated above the earth surrounded by a magical ether, somewhat reminiscent of clouds, but dry and warm, and containing small sparkling faerie lights. Her soul, possessed of a seemingly naked, but corporeal body, stood on the Eastern shore of a great river. Before her, beached, silhouetted in the Mists of Time rose the prow and stern of a funeral boat. Standing at the helm was Charon, the ferryman.
“Would you ferry me across the water to the Western shore?” Miri asked.
“I would for two golden denarii,” replied Charon, stroking his grizzled beard.
“I have no coins,” replied Miri, holding her arms up palms outward, to display her nakedness, “As you can see I have no pockets in which to keep them.”
“Then you will have to remain here on the Eastern shore,” replied Charon tartly. “Do you expect me to ferry you across the Great River for nothing?”
“Are you suggesting that all those who die penniless, cannot pass over to the other side?” countered Miri.
Charon snorted. “That is preposterous, all who die may cross the Great River, but each must pay the price!”
“And what would be my price?”
“Two gold denarii!” declared Charon with an air of finality.
“But you know I have no money!”
“Then you must remain on the Eastern Shore!” responded Charon huffily.
Miri sighed in frustration.
“I have struggled all my short life, and now it seems I must struggle to enter the realm of the dead?”
“Death’s a bitch!” retorted Charon.
Stumped by Charon’s obstinacy, Miri suddenly remembered a prayer from her studies in Philae.
“Glory is Thine, O Ausar-un-Nefer, King of Eternity! Hallowed be thy name, Thou who endures for ever and ever, Thou who endures for Eternity, thou who pervades all things with thy presence, grant Thou to me, the splendor of Heaven, and triumph in the Underworld.
Grant Thou that I may sail down to Tattu like a living soul and up to Abtu like the Phoenix, the sacred Bennu bird. Grant also I may enter in and come forth from the pylons of the lands of the Underworld without hindrance!”
She paused with a definite glare at Charon for emphasis, and he shied away warily.
“Let my soul be called into thy presence, for I have come to the City of God, with all my soul, with my double, and my ka, to dwell in your sacred lands. That I have no money with which to pay the ferry man, I ask for services to you, O Lord Un-Nefer, that the fare for the passage be paid!”
The clink of coins attracted Miri’s attention and at her feet lay two gold denarii. She picked the coins up eagerly and handed them magnanimously to Charon, who accepted the payment gracelessly, for he realized had he known she would demand payment to be given to him by prayer to Ausar, he could have asked for ten times the sum he had demanded and she would have received it.
Nonplussed, Miri scrambled onto Charon’s ferry boat, and the old man of the River Ogigia pushed off from the Eastern Shore, and within moments the land of the East was lost in the fog. The clouds about them smelled of death and decay, and the water gurgled menacingly as Charon’s pole propelled them through the mist.
For ages Miri could see nothing, but then, through the fog burned the brilliant silhouette of two tall temple towers. The boat bumped gently onto a shallow sandy shore and Miri stepped out of the boat and onto land. A few steps brought her out of the fog and into a land of brilliant sunshine. A broad stone staircase at her feet lead upward and Miri could discern a massive temple palace flanked right and left by huge gold and white limestone pylons. A brilliant bright light, the Aten of the Gods, the ka of Rei, the One and only source of Life emanated from the palace and blinded her. Shading her eyes with her hands, she approached the hall along a wide avenue. Living sphinxes which flanked the walkway, watched her impassively as she passed, and as she neared the massive hall, Miri realized the inscriptions upon the pylons were the story of the life, death and resurrection of the great god, Ausar.
The reliefs were exquisite, carved by no mortal hand, but by the everlasting souls of the greatest sculptors who had ever lived. To the right and left a great wall stretched as far as the eye could see. On the inside of the wall, she knew, was paradise, the heaven where all pure souls would dwell in serenity for eternity. Miri mounted the steps to the Great Judgment Hall, the Court of Last Appeal, where the Lord God Ausar presided as judge.
The great doors swung open, and there upon an embalming slab lay her battered body. The air was thick with the smell of incense smoldering in two great iron stands on either side of the anteroom. Opposite her, flanked by two jackals, stood Anubis, the great jackal headed god. He beckoned her inside and Miri advanced upon the table. Sadly she caressed her mutilated body. Anubis applied unguents to the corpse, and wiped them over each cut and abrasion, purifying the wounds with spices and herbs.
She looked up at Anubis quizzically, and he motioned to the great bronze door behind him. Miri passed on to the doors guarded by two goddesses, Meshkenet, the goddess of the funeral chamber and Renenet, the goddess of the nursery. As Miri reached the portal, the two goddesses gestured and the two huge bronze doors swung open to grant her passage. Miri found herself in an antechamber, faced with yet another huge set of doors, yet these doors were barred fast.
To her right, she spied a pool. A mikvah! Curious, respectful of the presence of the god Anubis, she sidled over to it. Clothes were laid out on a couch by the poolside. A chair and table to the other side were unoccupied, but on the table were jars of oils and fragrances. Miri examined the table. Her own makeup box was there! Her heart rejoiced at the sight of it, and she lifted the lid to the box. To one side two lotus flowers sat in a vase. She smiled then, turned to the pool.
The water was so inviting, Miri could no longer resist its call. She descended the steps into the mikvah. The water was warm and soothing. The grime of her life dissolved and she submerged herself in the holy water. Care and sorrow drifted away, and the pain of Life melted into the sacred waters of the Pool of Right and Truth, the Pool of the South.
Bathed and incredibly refreshed, she stepped from the water and dried herself with a towel hanging from the back of the chair. From the ointment jars, she chose several fragrances, jasmine, patchouli, frankincense, and rubbed the oils into her skin. She then dressed in the pure white pleated linen dress laying upon the couch. She then donned the bracelets and anklets, clasped the necklace about her shoulders and the wrapped the girdle about her waist, fastening it with the knot of Auset. Dressed, she sat down at the table and applied her makeup. Then after brushing her beautiful raven black hair, tied a headband, also with the knot of Auset, about her head and fastened one of the lotus flowers to it. Finally she carefully raised a cone of scented fat over her head and placed it upon her hair, where it would melt and drain onto her scalp, releasing its fragrance as it liquefied.
Fully dressed and radiant, she walked calmly to the huge doors, and stood before them.
Surprisingly, the doorknocker had a face, which spoke to her.
“Who is it who demands entrance to the Hall of Maat?”
“In the name of Ausar and Auset, Set and Nepthet,” replied Miri, “I, Miriam of Shechem, Satemashtaroth, ask entrance to the Hall of Judgment!”
The large bronze knocker rapped unaided upon the huge doors. The large doors also had faces carved upon them, and the closed eyes opened as the knocker rapped upon them.
“Who art thou who demands entrance to the Hall of Maat?” they asked in unison.
“I am Miriam-Anit, the soul of Ausar, Satemashtaroth, daughter of Astarte, and I ask entrance to the hall of Maat!”
“Enter, Miriam-Anit!” replied the doors in harmony and swung open.
Miri stepped forward, but before she her foot reached the floor within the hall, a hand formed from the tile and held her fast. A face appeared within it.
“Who is it who asks entrance to the Hall of Maat?” the floor asked.
Miri sighed and rolled her eyes. This was becoming tedious.
“It is I, Miriam-Anit, beloved of Ausar and Auset, daughter of Astarte,” she replied rather begrudgingly.
The floor frowned at her.
“I’m sorry,” apologized Miri, “I am not quite used to speaking to inanimate objects!”
“I am far from inanimate!” declared the floor rather huffily. “You had better show a little more respect for the world about you, Miriam of Shechem!”
“You are right!” agreed Miri, “Would you please let my foot down?”
“I will not let you tread on me, because I am sacred, and I must know the names of thy feet before you may tread upon my tiles!”
“What?” asked Miri in disbelief.
“I will not let you tread on me, because I am sacred, and I must know the names-”
“All right! All right!” snapped Miri, remembering the responses she had been taught in school.
“Traveller of the God Khas is my right foot, and Staff of the Goddess Hathor, my left!”
The floor did not respond.
“Hello?” Miri called to the floor, “You know me- and the names of my feet! Could you please let me pass?”
“Very well,” responded the floor reluctantly, and the hand released her and molded back into the floor. Miri walked into the Hall. Something caught her toe, a tile slightly raised above the rest, and she stumbled a little.
“Watch your step!” the floor called out after her.
Miri shook her head and looked about her.
She was in a large colonnaded hall.
Directly before her stood an ornate set of scales decorated in gold, carnelian and lapis lazuli. The ibis-headed Thoth stood beside the scales, papyrus in hand. Beside him, his hand poised on the tongue of the sacred balance, was Anubis.
Immediately facing the scales was the shrine that held the throne of Ausar. The pedestal rose from the still waters of a lotus pool, and the canopy, decorated with rows of the uraei, cobras surmounted by the Aten of Rei, was supported on pillars with lotus capitals. Gauze curtains draped across the open sides of the shrine hid the interior of the cabana from view. A table covered with fruit, vegetables, bread and cheese, and jars of beer stood before the shrine.
Several gods attended the hall. Ra-Harmachis, a manifestation of Horus, god of the Dawn and the Zenith of the Sun. Temu, the god of the red evening sun, wearing the crowns of the North and South. Shu, son of Rei and Hathor. His sister, Tefnut, a lion-headed goddess, personification of the dew. Seb, son of Shu, personification of the Earth. Nut, partner of Nu and Seb, her dark blue skin of the sky studded with brilliant stars. Hathor, spouse of Horus the Elder, and goddess of the western mountain where the sun set and goddess of the House where it rose. The Hu and Sa, sacred crewmen of the boat of Rei which sailed across the sky.
She recognized Horus, the hawk-headed god she had spoken to in his manifestation as the Bennu-bird on Biga, standing by the pool around the shrine. He turned to face her. Behind him, standing upon a lotus flower growing from the pool which surrounded the shrine of Ausar were his children, the gods of the four cardinal points: Kebsennuf, with the head of a hawk much like his father Horus; the jackal-headed Tua-Mutef, the ape-headed Hapi, and Mestha, whose shape in all respects was of a man.
“Miriam of Shechem, Satemashtoreth,” called Thoth, “Step forward!”
Miri stepped forward and stood before Thoth and the great scales. He reached toward her and his hand passed into her chest. Miri felt a slight tingling and Thoth retrieved her heart and placed it upon the right hand tray hanging from the balance. The goddess Maat placed a single feather upon the other tray, and the tray balanced.
To her horror, the scales slowly dipped down to the side upon which hung her heart. As the golden tray touched the marble tabletop, a great commotion arose at the door and all doors turned toward it. The hall shook with the ferocity of the banging upon the great gold doors.
The chief gatekeeper of the Judgment Hall of Ausar, called hesitantly from the behind the barred gates, “Who’s there?”
“It is I Anat, daughter of Astarte, Queen of Heaven, Mistress of The Great Above, and I have business with Ausar and the Queen Auset which cannot wait!”
“If you are truly Anat,” called out Thoth, “Why has your heart led you to the West from which no traveller can return?”
“If you do not open this door at once, I shall kick it down,” Anat answered, “I, Anat, wish to ask a favour of Auset, and the dark Queen Nepthet!”
“Stay here, Anat,” Thoth replied in a dignified manner, “I will speak to my Mistress. I will give her your message.”
Thoth approached the shrine and called out softly, “My queen, a maid as tall as heaven, as wide as the earth, and as strong as the foundations of the mountains of the North, waits outside the palace gates. She has in her possession and adorned herself with the seven Mei of the gods of the East, and threatens the destruction of the palace should we not comply!”
“Then, dear Thoth,” came Auset’s reply, “Open the gates and bid her welcome!”
Thoth waved his hand and the golden doors to the Judgment hall of Heaven swung wide.
He said to the maid, “Come, Anat, enter.”
In full battle dress, Anat marched into the Hall of Judgment, her flashing eyes challenging all whose gaze met hers. Across her chest was strung the bow of Akhat, and from her belt dangled her deadly battlemace. She stood before the shrine, and in a loud belligerent voice, called out:
“Lord Osiris, I have need of an audience!”
The gauze curtains parted revealing the radiant Ausar within. Behind his throne stood the sisters, Auset and Nepthet.
“Sister Anath,” said Ausar amiably, “To what do we owe the honour of your illustrious presence?”
Anat harrumphed disdainfully. “Why is it your sisters stand behind you? Should they not be at your side?”
Ausar motioned them forward with a flick of his wrist. Nepthet and Auset stepped into the fore court smiling enigmatically.
“Does that suit your sensibilities,” asked Ausar, “Or should I step down from my throne, and stand before you on bended knee?”
“It makes no difference to me!” replied Anat curtly. “I am not one for formalities!”
“So I have heard,” replied Ausar calmly, “How is your mother?’
“Well enough!” replied Anat. “It is for her that I come to claim the heart of her daughter Miriam, whom you judge!”
This announcement caused some disturbance amongst the gods, and a murmur of indignant voices washed through the hall. Ausar held his hand up for silence.
Ausar inclined his head to his guest. “That is your right, but already we have weighed her heart and it is found wanting. It is no longer mine to give but my brother Set’s!”
Anat’s gaze swept the room.
“He is not here!” she stated flatly.
“No, he has other matters to attend to, but I shall summon him.”
“Do so!” commanded Anat.
Ausar waved his hand lazily, and the floor beneath their feet trembled, and a low ominous rumbling emanated throughout the hall. A gaping hole opened almost at Miri’s feet and she gasped as she stared down at a lake of molten ore bubbling within a deep chasm. Sulphurous smoke billowed from the hole, obscuring it completely, and as it cleared, where the gaping chasm had been, a dark figure stood on the reconstituted granite floor.
As the last wispy remnants of noxious smoke evaporated, Miri recognized Seth. It was the old man she had spoken to on Biga!
“Miriam,” he said simply in acknowledgement, then turned to Ausar.
“Well, what is it?” he asked his brother impatiently, and his eyes lit as he spied the heart on the scales. “Ah!” he said delightedly, “Another sinner!” he looked gleefully at Miri. “My brother never gets the interesting mortals. Those he keeps are so terribly dull!”
“Silence!” roared Ausar. His voice was deafening and startled Miri for until that moment he had seemed meek and mild. His eyes flashed with the fury of the sun, then settled back to their serene pose. “Anat wishes to speak with you!” he said indicating the goddess with a regal sweep of his hand.
“A deal?” crowed Set, rubbing his hands gleefully, “How nice! Well, what have you to offer?”
“You will release Miriam and I will leave you with your bowels and organs intact!” stated Anat.
Set angled his head to one side. “A fair offer!” he mused, “But-’ he scratched his head, “I would have to consider something a little more fair than that! After all, I should get something for my troubles, a small concession of some kind....” His voice trailed off in invitation to an offer, but Anat stood firm and did not answer.
Auset stepped forward and addressed the court.
“This girl has been of great service in my shrine, and I feel I do owe her some support for she has saved many souls from an early demise and done my name great honour!”
“This is not some sort of democracy we’re running here!” protested Set, “We have established rules of procedure! Her heart was weighed against the feather of Maat and did not pass the test! Ask our learned brother Thoth!” Set addressed the ibis-headed Thoth, “Did she, or did she not, pass the weighing of her heart?”
“She did not!” replied Thoth to Set’s great satisfaction. “Although-” he added slowly as he rummaged through the scrolls on his table, “it does say - I have it here, somewhere- Ah, yes! ‘Should any god intervene upon the mortal’s behalf, then a tribunal will be established to review the merits of that god’s claim!”
“But that applies only to Egyptian gods!” whined Set, “Anat is not one of our Pantheon!”
“That is not quite true,” replied Thoth, “She is worshipped in the Northern nomarchs, and as such has been adopted by Egypt. Yes, she is definitely an official god!”
“Ahh!” cried Set in disgust, “Damn the Hittites! This is not fair! I won her fair and square! She has been in my realm since she set foot in the wasteland of the Western Desert. The moment she stepped from black soil and into the red, she has belonged to me!” protested Set.
Horus stepped between Set and Ausar.
“She has been of service not only to my mother, but to me as well, if you recall uncle, and I also would ask a second chance for her. She has great power within her, and as we should not raise the ire of our sister Anat, nor the great Astarte, and as co-regent with my father, Ausar, I decree also she must be released to the Great Mother of the Syrians!
“It is plain Set has a claim to this heart for the weighing has been done,” announced Ausar, “Yet Anat has asked for the possession of the heart, not for herself but for the honour of her mother Astarte, and I myself owe Astarte a debt for releasing my soul from the sycamore. I shall give Anat the heart of Miriam of Shechem, and to compensate my brother for the loss, Miriam will be bonded into service of the Lord Set for a space of five years, including the time she has already spent under his influence, after which her obligation is fulfilled to Set, and Anat may then carry her to the Court of Queen Astarte.
I have spoken!”
Auset stepped forward holding out a tray in her hands, upon it a gold goblet.
“Before you leave, you must drink from this goblet of forgetfulness, so that you will not carry back with you knowledge of this world we inhabit.”
Miri took the goblet and poured it back in one whole draught, and replaced the goblet on Auset’s tray, and in a twinkling of an eye, the curtains fell across the shrine and the hall emptied. Miri stood alone with Anat.
The goddess extended her hand.
“Come Miriam,” she said kindly, “There is much to be done!”
Miri looked where her heart lay on the scales of Thoth, and it was gone! She looked in surprise at Anat. The goddess extended her hand; her fist clenched about the beating heart of Miri, and pushed it gently back into Miri’s chest without tearing skin, flesh or bone.
As they walked through the ante room, Anubis approached them, respectfully eying Anat. “My father Set informs me you will have need of my assistance for the way back,” he whispered, “I will accompany you on your long journey!” he held his hand out and took Miri’s hand. She stared into his golden eyes, and was filled with a deep sense of fulfillment, and hand in hand with her protectress Anat, and flanked by the god Anubis, Miri descended the steps of the Judgment Hall.