The smell of the sea filled Miri with a relief beyond words. She had not realized she yearned so much for her homeland. Though the thought of Thomas traveling to Israel reminded her Kemet was not her homeland, Yerushalayam and Alexandria seemed to belong to the same land. The richness and beauty of Alexandria and its intense creative atmosphere had decided she would take her cargo directly to Alexandria. Everything seemed to have fallen into place for her. Maitreyi had promised a harvest of spikenard for her, and would deliver them as far as Magadha where Krishna would re-route them to Yavanadana. And Sylvanius and Parvati had agreed that he should captain her ship for a cut in the cargo, not to mention that as seafarers, they could call both Kemet and Malayalam home. They would all become very rich.
Such was the plan. But as the ship backed away from the beach, Miri had noticed a stranger standing just at the tree line, and she swore he was the man who had attacked her in her tent in Myos Hormos. It could not have been, of course. The thought it might have been Alexander flickered across her darkening brain, and an invisible hand tightened about her heart. She realized she hoped Alexander had perished, for the thought of him returning filled her with dread.
“He would not be in a good mood”, she thought, then laughed at the thought. He would be livid. Especially since she had done so well without him. The spices she had on board would indeed make her a queen. The men of Alexandria would bow at her feet and she could ask of any one of them any thing she desired. Her cargo would make her the envy of Cleopatra herself! Her thoughts drifted to Drusilla and Portia, and then to Setem and Cepheus to Castor. I have left a trail of death in my wake.
“Such thoughts are too dark for a return voyage,” said Polydeuces. She had not heard him come up.
“A return voyage encourages the thoughts,” replied Miri, “I am not sure I relish coming home.”
“You will be a rich woman,” replied Polydeuces.
“That, I will,” replied Miri.
“You will conquer your daemons,” said the old man.
She hugged Polydeuces. “Thank you!” she whispered.
“It is the gods who should be thanked, not me!”
“You are too humble, old man,” she said, “Aren’t you the same man who said the impossible takes a little longer?”
“No,” he said quietly, “I am not!”
Sylvanius, it turned out was a bold captain. Much to the consternation of the crew, he had chosen to beat before the monsoon winds and avoid the coastal route altogether. And the Heart of the Isis, bound with Malayalam sails and rope and teak masts and spars ran faster and stronger than on her outward voyage. Those that remembered her previous incarnation marveled at her new spirit. They flew across the great Erythrian Sea, their passage heralded by the porpoises sent by Poseidon to lead their bow.
But despite their unimpeded progress, Miri felt an impending doom approaching as though darkness was swelling in the West. She took to sitting in the prow watching the horizon for she was sure that they would encounter a wall of darkness to high, no bird could fly over it and so deep no fish could swim under. A darkness that would swallow then all and once they were taken, pass over the face of the waters, a foul evil darkness that would suck the every living being into itself, never to be reincarnated, never to be rejuvenated. The world, the universe, would be at an end. But the darkness remained at their back and the wind drove rain into the sail, and the ship was constantly wey, but the winds of the monsoon were taking them home.
Sylvanius had planned to swing to the south of Socotra, but Miri argued against it.
“I have to see Drusilla!” she said adamantly, “We will land on Socotra!”
She linked the darkness with her handmaiden on Socotra, and she needed to find her to dispel the darkness. Drusilla was the key to fighting the darkness. Of that she was sure.
The beach was deserted. They beached in the throes of a torrential thunderstorm, and the approach in the higher seas had tested the mettle of the crew, but despite safely landing, the trepidation had not dissipated. There was something amiss of the island, and those few who had visited it earlier had already passed exaggerated tales of ferocious dragons on to the Malayalam sailors who had signed on for the homeward voyage. Though most sailors crave change and adventure, one could have too much of a good thing.
Still, the island was preferable to the thunderstruck waters, and they all wished the storm would pass, Miri would find Drusilla and they would be away by sunrise.
The sun did rise the next morning, but they were not about to depart. Miri determined she should hike as far as Kaysha’s cottage. Sylvanius chose to remain with the ship, but Parvati insisted upon going with Miri, along with others in the crew.
“I came for adventure,” said Parvati, “Surely on a desert isle, we shall find it!”
Miri smiled, but Sylvanius, wise enough not to argue with his wife, secretly hoped there would be no more adventure to be found on Socotra. Realizing from his past experience on the island he had cause to fear for her safety, Sylvanius changed his mind and chose to accompany the expedition.
The island was no longer dry. They climbed over the large tract of huge sand dunes, not only littered with tufts of hardy grass and scattered clumps of cacti, but beautiful white flowers. A large number of the crew came along, as Miri thought it prudent with such a valuable cargo to ensure that there were not enough men left on the ship to sail her out.
The expedition stopped on a rise. The slope before them was dotted with the strange umbrella-like dragon trees and in the distance Miri spied the trees that marked Kaysha’s modest stone hut. The explorers exchanged quick glances, drew their collective breath and walked slowly toward the thicket. Much to Miri’s horror, the small building had been gutted by fire, Miri approached the opening that had been the front door, and stepped inside. A small herd of pigs squealed in fear as she entered and frantically darted about and past her. Their explosion into the grove created a loud reaction from the sailors in the expedition and men and pigs darted about, one team determined to eat pork for supper and the other determined not to become that supper.
Ignoring the commotion outside, Miri explored the dark interior of the shelter. The pots smashed and had obviously been abandoned for some time. Scattered upon the floor were several stone pieces with markings upon them. She recognized the script as Meroitic, and she picked one up. She recognized the word “dragon” and on another, the word “phoenix” or it could have been “Horus”. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar shape. Miri froze. In one corner of the smoke blackened ruin, lay a charred corpse. There was not much left, but the burned bones were human. Miri knelt down beside the corpse. Animals, probably the wild pigs, had eaten away the meaty parts of the body and the arms, legs and head were detached from the thorax. She recognized the glint of gold on the bony hand and her heart stopped.
It was her ruby ring. Miri reached for the ring, but her hand shook terribly. She took a breath and wrung out her hands willing her control over her shaking. She brought the trembling under control and lifted the dismembered forearm. It was her ruby ring. Miri fought against the rift tearing her heart, the tears welling and blurring her vision, and the terrible trembling in her muscles, and gently tugged the ring. The hand fell apart and the ring came free.
She caressed the fallen skull.
“Poor, sweet, Dru,” she whispered. And lifted the skull.
Her heart suddenly lept. The skull was not her hand maide. She could tell by the remaining teeth. It was Kaysha. Cradling the skull in her arm, Miri explored the rest of the cottage. There was no sign of Drusilla. Miri returned to the corpse and removed her head scarf. Piece by piece, she placed the charred bones of the witch on the cloth. The skull had a long hole along the left side. It seemed Kaysha had been slain by a sword or some other blade. She had not died without a fight, for the ulna of her right arm had also been cut by a metal blade.
She bundled the remains in the scarf, and carried them outside. Her men had captured and slain two pigs. The rest had gained their freedom. The crew stared at her expectantly, awaiting her command. She had none, and sat down upon the remains of a stone wall.
“I must bury my friend,” she announced, and stood up. She looked about. A spot caught her eye, or rather her heart and she decided it would be a good spot in which to bury the witch.
“We should set a pyre so she may be released to the Heavens,” said Parvati.
The sense of the suggestion was obvious to Miri. To bury a witch as strong as Kaysha could indeed leave her soul entombed in the grove forever. So Parvati and Miri set about gathering firewood. Some of the crew joined in, but wood gathering was women’s work. Once the pyre was built, Miri laid her scarf and its contents upon the wood. She had a little ungent in an alabaster jar in her bag, and this she scraped from the jar with her fingers and wiped it upon the bundle. She undid the knots on the bundle, and one of the Malayalam sailors set about rubbing a stick amongst some wood shavings to start a fire. Once he had smoke, he blew gently on the savings and soon had enough kindling to start the funeral pyre.
The flames spread rapidly, and soon the pyre crackled and a strong aromatic smoke wafted from the flames. The smoke wrapped about the grove and did not seem to rise. The men became restless, especially since they all knew now that Kaysha was a powerful witch. Panic had begun to set in and several of the men suggested they leave immediately. Miri dismissed the faint of heart and only a small handful remained. Along with Miri, Parvati and Sylvanius, were Koshi from Malayalam, Kumar, who had set the fire as well as two Greeks, Typhis, a skilled sailor and Phlias who claimed Dionysus as an ancestor. The seven sailors sat silently within the smoke. Such was the sweetness of the smoke, they became transfixed.
Thus immobilized, Miri thought she could see a figure within the smoke. She squinted her eyes and the smoke obscured the figure, but she could not shake the impression someone was standing in the smoke. She found she could not move, despite her desire to rise and investigate the figure. Nor could she speak. She felt no fear, but she was concerned lest her situation become permanent.
The smoke eventually cleared but all seven explorers remained completely paralysed. Miri felt no discomfort, in fact she felt very warm, calm and relaxed. She blinked. The movement gave her relief and hope her mobility would soon be restored. Yet, she could not even turn her eyeballs in her head. It was as if she were made of stone. She closed her eyes, thankful for the small freedom that allowed her. She assumed the others were similarly restrained for no one came to her aid. By sunset, she could move her eyes a little, and she could see to her right Parvati who stared directly at her. Their eye contact meant much for it was enough for each woman to reassure the other.
Now that the sun was setting, Miri began to wonder about the dragons of the open plain. Fear rose goosebumps on her skin, and the hairs on her scalp prickled. She opened her eyes quickly and looked over at Parvati. Her eyes were wide open and Miri cringed within her own skin. She was suddenly struck by a force from behind, and a pair of arms wrapped tightly about her. Her voice uttered only a tiny squeak and she toppled over from the force of the onslaught. She closed her eyes instinctively, and when she opened them, she stared into Drusilla’s eyes.
“Mistress!’ cried Drusilla ecstatically, “I prayed and prayed you would return! I can’t believe you’re here!”
Not receiving a reply from the paralyzed Miri, Drusilla noticed the others in the grove, and also it dawned on her they had all been bewitched.
“Oh good grief!” she cried and ran from one to the other, touching each to secure a reaction. She had a dagger tied about her waist and Typhon’s battle axe, almost as long as she, strapped to her back. She ran back to Miri.
“Are you real?” she cried desperately, “Are you real?” Her eyes looked deep into Miri’s for an answer. Miri blinked purposefully>
“Oh my!” cried Drusilla. She pinched Miri’s cheek, but Miri could not respond. “We have to get you out of here! There are still dragons on this island!” She glanced about the grove frantically, and seeing that Koshi had a rope, she unstrung it from about his chest and threw a loop over a tree limb. We have to get you into the tree!” She said breathlessly. “It may hurt!”
Drusilla quickly bound Miri and hoisted her up into the tree above their heads, secured the rope to another tree, and then scrambled up the trunk of the tree from which Miri dangled. After a painful flurry of activity up in the tree, Drusilla draped Miri from a tree branch and frantically repeated the process with Parvati and then Typhis. The tree was full, so she hauled Koshi and then Sylvanius into the next tree over. Sylvanius was heavier than the others and she had great difficulty lifting him. She could not drape him over a branch, and as she struggled with him, she heard a hissing she knew only too well.
“Dragons!” she whispered and tugged on Sylvanius with renewed vigour, but her grip slipped and he tumbled to the ground. She grabbed the rope at the last minute and managed to break his fall. Swearing, she dropped from the tree beside him, and checked to see if he was unhurt. AS he could not move enough even to wince, she realized her diagnostics were futile, and scanned the darkness around her. The moonlight glinted off the backs of at least three dragons. They were very close.
“Oh great mother!” she declared and threw the rope back over a higher branch and yanked as hard as she could. Sylvanius squeaked at her in pain. With a sudden roar, a dragon seized Kumar and disappeared into nearby bushes. The crunching and chewing noises told her Kumar could not be saved. She had to act fast. She pulled with all her might and hoisted Sylvanius aloft. Another dragon was stalking them and she panicked. She hauled Sylvanius as high as she could, but her arms ached, and she knew she could not secure him in the branches if she was to save the last sailor, whose wide open eyes called desperately to her. He had been sitting only a hairsbreadth from Kumar, and, though he could not move, he trembled from fear. Drusilla tied the rope holding Sylvanius and dropped to the ground. She pulled Typhon’s battle axe from her back and hefted it in two hands. Her arms were larger than when Miri had left, and the axe cut a swift arc through the night air, and she lifted it ready for battle.
Satisfied she had time, she dragged Phlias towards the nearest tree and stood with her back to him and the tree ready to protect him from the advancing dragons. She had no time to wait. A dragon with a great scar across his snout lunged forward. The axe cut a swath before the dragon’s charge, but the dragon had a healthy respect for the axe, for he had already had a run in with the tiny combatant.
“Come on, Horny!” Drusilla shouted at the reptile, and he lunged at her again. Drusilla counter attacked, her axe swinging before her and the dragon withdrew and bit at her again. She swung and missed. A sudden noise came behind her, and a second dragon had seized Phlias while Horny had drawn her out. She leaped at the dragon holding Phlias, but she sensed rather than heard Horny charge her, and she swung about. Her axe caught the dragon across the side of his head and sliced into the bony ridge above his eye; twisted under the ridge and cracked the upper nasal passage. She pulled the axe back and struck again, slamming the axe across the dragon’s neck. Black blood spurted from the wound, and Drusilla turned to save Phlias. It was too late. Two other dragons were already tearing pieces from his body. She dropped the axe and sprinted to the nearest tree and scrambled up the trunk, another dragon hot on her heels. It’s jaws snapped shut just a handbreadth from her heels as she swung herself up into the lower branches. She had climbed the same tree from which Sylvanius dangled. He now attracted the attention of the dragon horde. Sylvanius hung just within their reach and they jumped and snapped at him. Luckily the closest snap missed, but the dragon’s snout banged against Sylvanius and he dangled and whirled from the madly spinning rope. Drusilla hauled on the rope, but it she did not have the strength to haul the poor man up. All she could do was to influence the spin to avoid the leaping lizards. She knew she could not keep it up, so she took a deep breath and leaned onto the rope on the opposite side of the branch from which Sylvanius dangled. It was enough to lift him from the reach of the reptiles, but unfortunately Drusilla slipped as she put her full weight against the rope and she fell. Still holding the rope, she now dangled lower than Sylvanius and the dragons turned their attention to her. She screamed as they lunged at her and she swung her legs about wildly, panic taking grip of her actions.
The rope slipped a little. Alarmed, Drusilla glanced at the knot that held her and Sylvanius. It had begun to unravel. Desperate, Drusilla swung her legs above her head, and her feet scrabbled upon a small, very flexible branch. She lost her footing and swung at the branch again. She felt the snap of a dragon’s jaws beneath her read end as she swung to the branch, but she managed to loop her legs into it and the branch fit snugly behind her knees. At that moment, the knot fell free, and the only thing keeping Sylvanius in the air was her own weight. She felt the rope between them slip in her favour and against Sylvanius’ safekeeping. With no thought she let herself go and she swung in a beautiful arc on the rope through the gauntlet of gaping maws and up into the tree in which Miri, Parvati and Typhis were wedged.
Amazingly Typhis had recovered a little locomotion, for when she hit him, he wrapped his huge bronzed arms around her waist. She felt a thrill rush through her as there bodies clashed and fused, stronger than any she had imagined, and in a single motion that flowed immediately from her flight through the air, she looped the rope about him, and at the same time, pulled it fast and carried by the incredible rush that passed through her, kissed him on the lips, her mouth pushing his as hard as she could. As a result, Sylvanius was whisked to safety and he snapped from his paralysis enough to release a victorious shout from his tree.
Drusilla wrapped the rope about Typhis and herself one more time and tied it off.
“My name is Typhis,” croaked the sailor.
Drusilla responded with another kiss.
The dragons disappeared by morning. Shortly after sunrise, two sailors, Chandra and Rahu, from the Heart of Isis arrived, sent by the crew to track down the missing explorers. Both men were armed to the teeth, but rather than presenting a formidable front, their appearance provoked a more comic reaction. Neither were warriors and they clanked incessantly as they walked, sounding remarkably like tinsmiths as they approached. The paralysis evaporated with the morning dew and the expeditionaries had recovered their mobility. Chandra and Rahu brought a breakfast of bread and fruit from the ship, and their weapons were evenly distributed amongst the others.
During the meal, Drusilla told her tale. She had lived with Kaysha and spent hours learning the preparation of spices and rendering of perfumes and potions. Drusilla left out the description of the spells she had learned, for she had decided that to be labeled a witch would not be to her advantage, but the unspoken was recognized by most of the expedition members. Tanis had not appeared, and on the whole the dragons that populated the island were kept at bay by strategic placement of potions about the cottage. Every night, Kaysha and Drusilla brought their animals into the cottage, for there was no sense in tempting the dragons to venture within the perimeter of their magic circle.
Every seventh day, Drusilla was allowed the day to herself, and she often walked as far as the Garden of the Phoenix to speak with him, and to chat with Portia. However, over the passage of time, that which had been Portia slowly became amalgamated into the consciousness of all who lived through the Phoenix, and Drusilla felt less and less inclined to call upon her sister. So she spoke with the Phoenix.
He was wiser than she had first supposed for he always tended to drift toward the trivial, but within the nonsense and riddles, she discovered a deeper Truth and a closer understanding of the world around her. She found that, between Kaysha and the Phoenix, she predict what they would say, the next movement they would make and whether it would rain or not, or which way the wind would blow at any time. She had gained the gift of prophecy.
She did not see the future; she just knew it. It was as though the future shaped her expectations, and she found an inner calm she had never felt before, for the cosmos seemed to be unraveling in a manner she could anticipate and accept. The knowing was not always something she could articulate nor even think about, but approaching events were sensed, and she came to understand why the Phoenix spoke in riddles. This was the way her sense of the future formed. Her anticipation, the sense of the future, was very much like a riddle. It required meditation and thought, but was cryptic, and she had become, through the process a poet.
Such was the power of poetry. The words were symbols of reality and could affect the outcome of the future. Poetry and spells were entwined, and that which was the poet within her was also the magician. Her new understanding of the world brought grace into her world, and having found that, Tanis sought her out.
The Great Dragon arrived when both Kaysha and Drusilla knew she would and the two women just outside the magic perimeter about their cottage for her arrival. It was that day, that Drusilla gave Kaysha Miri’s ring, for she sensed great danger for the aged witch. At the edge of the magic circle, Kaysha and Drusilla offered incense to Tanis, and opened the circle to the dragon. Tanis arrived at twilight, her great wings wide sillhoetted aginst the orange and purple sky. The other dragons, children of Tanis, slid inside the circle, but the presence of tanis held them from harming either of the women and their livestock. They were not invested with Tanis’ intelligence nor endowed with her genius, and skulked about, menacing, for their reptilian nature was driven by food and its extraction.
“We are in great danger,” said Tanis, “I cannot determine its nature, but¾”
Her words were cut short as a great shaft, a giant spear, lodged in her throat. The great dragon coughed and at that instant it seemed the world exploded into a hail of arrows and a great roar of a hundred male voices shattered the night. A great clash of swords against shields shook the very ground. They were under siege. A Roman ship had landed on the island and disgorged a full three centuries, half a cohort, of Roman legionaires. They were searching for the egg of the Phoenix and were under direct orders from the Emperor to use any means possible to obtain it.
Tanis toppled to the ground and Drusilla ran to pull the huge bolt from her throat, but Tanis warned her off.
“It is too late!” replied Tanis, “If you remove it now, I will die instantly! It stems the flow of blood! You must find a vessel to collect my blood before I die! Quickly!”
Drusilla ran to the cottage to find an urn in which to collect the blood that flowed from Tanis’ neck.
“As large as possible!” cried Kaysha, who had moved to stem the flow of geen blood from Tanis’ neck. To reach the cottage, she had to run toward the approaching Roman line. Arrows clattered about her, but providence and second sight allowed her to reach the cottage. She dashed inside the stone dwelling. A large amphora sat embedded into the sandy earth floor. It was filled with ceremonial spice wine, but Drusilla grasped the large vessel, removed the cloth cover and upturned it. The fragrance of the wine immediately filled the room. The ponderous approach of the Roman line was unnerving. They stepped one determined step at a time and at each step they struck their short swords against their shields, and the resulting clash of their armour filled her heart with dread. Her tunic was soaked in wine, and stuck to her, making it harder to move. As the door faced the Roman line, she slipped through the small window at the back of the cottage and pulled the amphora after her. She dashed for Tanis and Kaysha, the wind at her heels. The smaller dragons, hissed defensively, but the threat from the approaching army was undeniable, so they slinked away into the darkness.
Breathlessly, Drusilla joined tanis and Kaysha.
“Pull the shaft!” commanded Tanis.
“Pull it!” hissed Tanis, “Before it is… too late!”
Drusilla grasped the protruding shaft and pulled. It did not move.
“Harder!” growled Tanis.
“Oh good Mother!” cried Kaysha, “The map!” She stood up and hurried, as much as an old woman with a staff could do, across the small garden to the cottage.
“The shaft!” hissed Tanis, “You must collect the blood!”
Torn between her two friends, Dusilla hesitated.
Drusilla turned her back on Kaysha and heaved on the bolt in Tanis’ neck. It slipped out an arms length and Drusilla was showered with dragon’s blood.
“More!” called Tanis, the blood gurgling in her throat.
Drusilla pulled again, and a torrent of green blood enveloped her. Tanis’ breath rattled desperately, as the Great Dragon fought to stay alive.
“The blood! Quickly!”
Those were her last words, but, her eyes filling with tears, Drusilla pushed the mouth of the amphora against the wound and it filled quickly. It became extremely heavy, but Drusilla held the vessel firm until she was sure it was full. A final great exhalation of air marked the expiration of the last Great Dragon. A flickering light made Drusilla turn.
The cottage was burning, The soldiers had reached the cottage and had already ransacked it. Kaysha was lost. Drusilla wasted no time. She ripped her tunic and wrapped the mouth of the amphora with the cloth to prevent spillage and ran.
“I had no idea of direction,” said Druilla tearfully, “I just ran and ran! I think the spirit of Tanis guided me, for I recovered my senses in the Garden of the Phoenix. I may have passed out.”
“Why did your friend go back?” asked Parvati.
“The map,” said Drusilla, “the map to the Garden of the Phoenix!”
“She smashed it,” said Miri.
“Yes,” replied Drusilla, “but it was for nothing! As I ran, I left a trail of dragon’s blood for them to follow. The Phoenix warned me of their approach. He told me I had to set fire to his nest. I told him I was not a virgin, but he insisted!
“’This is no time for ritual!’ he said. So I took the eternal fire and set him alight, and his last words were to destroy the sacred bowl and extinguish the fire. This I did! I gathered his ashes and placed them in a stone urn. I hid the urn and the amphora and climbed the mountain. The Romans arrived, and realizing they were too late, they set fire to the Great Tree and destroyed the Garden!”
“There is nothing left?” asked Miri.
Drusilla shook her head. “They took the ashes of the tree and the cracked bowl I had tipped over and left the island.”
“And the blood?”
“We will take it with us!” declared Miri.
Drusilla led the others along the secret path leading to the Garden of the Phoenix. Miri’s heart sank as they entered the sacred grotto. The lush garden was now a grey and colourless ruin. Much of the great tree remained, but now it was a shattered and blackened spire. A small area before the doorway within the roots of the great tree had been swept clean and a whisk broom leaned against the tree beside the door. Drusilla had erected a canopy of woven cloth over the door, and an overturned basin served as a small seat.
Drusilla had lived for over a year in the bole of the tree. With great pride she showed the visitors the garden she had planted. The plants were a beautiful green, in full fruit, and all agreed the earth was still fertile, but renewing the garden to its former state would have been a lifetime’s work. While all about her examined the garden and chatted, Miri’s soul was drawn to the heights above.
Parvati was drawn by Miri’s words. She touched Miri’s elbow.
“Is everything alright?” she asked quietly.
“No!” said Miri. She turned to the others in her group. “I must visit Tanis’ cave!”
It was decided that Chandra and Ranhu would accompany her. Parvati volunteered to join them, and Sylvanius, his duty to his wife foremost in his mind declared he would join them, but his ordeal from the night before had caused a considerable amount of back pain, and he found he could not climb. He reluctantly stayed behind, but could not help asking his wife to reconsider her decision. For a moment she complied, considered and rejected the thought she remain below.
It had taken her less than a full inhalation to do so.
Though encumbered by their saris, Miri and Parvati hiked the cloth above their knees once they were a prudent distance from the remaining explorers. The climb was not easy, but it was pleasant. Her Malayalam companions were effervescent and happily met the challenges of the rock climb. The ascent was scattered with laughter, and despite the darkness theat Miri felt above her, Miri extremely enjoyed the climb.
At the peak, on Tanis’ Ridge, they stood before the gaping maw that led down towards the gates to the underworld.
Lanterns, lamps and torches littered the entrance, and the companions searched for a suitable light for their passage to the underworld. Miri had told the others to search for the vials she and the girls had abandoned there years earlier. Their search was interrupted by the arrival of a very bedraggled and ragged old man. Most of his weight was supported by his trembling staff. Miri ran to his aide.
“Ropizdomen!” she cried as she grasped his elbow.
“Miriam the Canaanite!” he rasped, “How very nice of you to come!”
“Sarcasm?” Miri asked Ropizdomen, “How unbecoming!”
“It’s all I have left!” replied Ropizdomen, “Help me out of here!” He held his hand out. It took the combined efforts of Parvati, Miri, Chandra and Rahu to pull Ropizdomen from the underground passageway.
Chandra gave Ropizdomen his waterskin, and the old god drank the water greedily. He wiped his lips and closed his eyes with a great sigh.
“Only the residual charms of Tanis hold Queen Erishkigal within her domain!” He opened his eyes and stared directly at Miri. “She will soon discover the Queen of Dragons has been destroyed at the hands of man!” He struck his staff on the ground, and the crystal on the handle glowed brightly “You must help me seal off the entrance to her realm!”
As the words left his lips, the very fabric of the Universe seemed to change. None knew what had taken place at first, until Chandra pointed to the sea.
“Look!’ he cried.
The world was darkening. Rahu covered his eyes and stared up at the sun. It was beginning to lose its brilliance, and soon darkness seemed to rise from the earth as dew rises with the dawn. Parvati clutched Miri’s arm. And Rahu wrapped his arms about Chandra and Miri. Ropizdomen, taller than the others wrapped his cloak about the small group and the shimmering material seemed to envelope them all. The four of them clutched at each other, for none had ever seen the sun disappear as some unseen maw seemed to be swallowing up all the light. The birds stopped calling and the wind dropped immediately. From a great distance a canine howl floated eerily on the still air. An eerie twilight descended upon them and the stars made an appearance. All about them a thin yellow orange red purple ring marked the horizon and the sun became a black disk with a fiery corona. The glowing crystal on Ropizdomen’s staff bathed the four explorers in an eerie green circle of light. A rustling behind them drew their attention and they all turned.
Erishkigal appeared from the shadows.
“How very sweet!” she sneered at the four humans clutching each other, “Positively darling!”
Ropizdomen released his charges and held his staff out before him keeping the light between himself and Erishkigal.
“Someone forgot to lock the gate!” she said to him, shielding her eyes from the green light, peering about for Tanis, “And it seems they let the dog off her leash! How unfortunate for you all!”
The Queen of the Underworld seemed to grow with the darkness, and as she grew, Ropizdomen’s light flickered and wavered. Although the magic staff seemed to keep Erishkigal at bay, it was obvious, her mei was draining the crystal of it spell. The mortals feared for their lives, for the goddess seethed with resentment and malice. She sensed the absence of the Queen of The Dragons, and with the darkness that had enveloped the island, now suddenly realized she was now free to roam the Earth at will. She roared in triumph and the mountain shook with her cry. She had shook the very bowels of the earth, and small stones and loose earth dribbled, rattled and rolled down the mountainside. The tremors caused all four mortals before her to tremble in sympathy with the rumbling mountain, and they were sure they were about to be swallowed up by the Earth, but suddenly, with a great rumbling grumbling effort, the mountain itself, aware of the presence of Erishkigal, shuddered one last time and divested itself of all the loose detritus of a millennia. An ear-splitting crack.echoed over a subsonic rumble. The four humans covered their earrs, but the sound could not be blocked out. The noise resonated within their bodies threatening to turn their flesh to quivering jelly, and with a mighty groan the rock above them parted from the mountainside.
The movement was so excruciatingly slow, everyone had time to think and react to the movement of the Earth. Chandra pushed Parvati and Miri away from the cave entrance, and Ropizdomen rushed toward Erishkigal. Rahu, sensing his intent and the imminent danger to them all from Erishkigal, leapt at the goddess. Between Rahu and Ropizdomen, Erishkigal was taken off guard and she lost her footing as they collided with her. Her terrible screech mingled with the fighting roar of Ropizdomen and Rahu, and the three figures were sealed into the cave by a terrific fall of broken rock.
A huge boulder, the size of the Heart of Isis crashed to the ground and sealed the cave, and in that instant, the light pushed the darkness to the horizon, the mountain ceased to rumble and Erishkigal, Ropizdomen and Rahu were irrevocably sealed within the cave.
Parvati’s arm was broken. Miri ripped her headdress into strips, and immobilized the arm using Ropizdomen’s staff to immobilize the limb. Sylvanius and Drusilla, concerned about their beloved companions, arrived as she finished tying the limb. Together they carried Parvati to the ash-covered Garden. There they began fashioning a bier to carry the injured Parvati back to the ship.
“Don’t be so silly!” she said, “My arm is broken, not my legs! I can walk!”
They all felt a little foolish, for it was true. None of them, in their panic, had thought she would walk back. Miri replaced the staff with a smaller splint and they made a sling from Parvati’s scarf. He long silky black hair flowed over her shoulders and covered her broken arm. Sylvanius stared at her in awe.
“Even broken and injured, you are the most beautiful woman in the world!”
Parvati laughed,.”And you are my favourite husband!”
After taking on water and loading Drusilla’s belongings and the remnants of her myrrh and frankincense harvest that had escaped the predations of the Roman incursion, the Heart of Isis, laden with pepper and spices, heaved a great sigh and set sail for Kemet.