It was quite dark for a hot and dry desert day.
“Get off the camel,” he ordered.
“Why?” I asked. “We’re not even half way there yet.”
“Just get off the damned thing.”
I swung my foot under the back of the crouched animal, jumped off, and then held my hands towards Seth for the little bundle of joy. “Why have we stopped? Is there a spring somewhere here?”
“To get rid of excess baggage,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Can you see the willow trees down there?” Seth asked.
“I want you to walk all the way there,” he said, “all the way around to the other side of that huge willow. Then I want you to take the baby by its feet and whack it against the bark of the tree. Give it a few good wacks until you know it’s dead and then dump it in that stream. Put it out of its misery. It will never get well, the springs can’t help it.”
There was suddenly a knot in my stomach. “Tell me you’re joking.”
He glared at me. “Nope.”
“Are you all there Seth?”
“I am,’ he said. “That kid’s father has insulted me so much. He tried to buy my fields in Denderah by selling me gold which he’d dug up on my own estate. He stole two gazelles which I’d hunted down for Nephthys’ birthday and has insulted me about a million times in front of the village elders. He said that Osiris and I were as different as chalk and cheese. What’s that supposed to mean, huh?”
“And all that is worth the life of an innocent baby?”
“Somebody must pay. Somebody must die.”
I gaped at him. “And this baby is guilty by association, is it?”
“It’s more than permissible for me to see it that way.”
‘You’re pathetic Seth.”
He suddenly reached back for his bow, yanking an arrow from his leather bow case.
“What are you doing?”
“You know I could always say it was an accident,” he said. “We saw a desert hare or antelope that was irresistible. You somehow got in the way and an arrow ended up going through your hand and the baby’s head.” He flicked the arrowhead. Then he pressed his finger into the tip. It drew blood.
My mouth was so dry at that stage that I thought my lips had been glued together. My heart thumped.
"Which will it be?” he asked.
“Fine” I tried to keep my voice from quivering. “You win.”
“Over there,” he ordered, pointing to the willows with his arrow. “Over there, so I don’t have to look at all the mess. Go on now.”
I cussed as a walked over to the cluster of weeping trees which stood a good one thousand or so cubits from the dust road we’d been travelling on. It appears that I was now on autopilot, acting purely on maternal instinct. Once I was firmly out of sight, I planted a kiss on the infant’s cheek before propping him high in a space between two differentiating branches of a willow. Then I flitted back and forth for a bit, looking for a decent sized rock I could make a decent ruckus with.
I kept peering in between the green curtains formed by the mingling branches of the trees, fearful that Seth might venture over to see why I was taking so long. He was still preoccupied with his arrows, testing their sharpness. Perfect. I picked up a rock lying at the base of a tree and smashed it against the trunk, over, over, and over again, grunting loudly as to make it appear that I was trying to mask the cries of the dying infant.
My skin burned with apprehension and my skin was bathed in perspiration. After a few more strikes I dropped the rock and stumbled out from under the shadows formed by the tree cluster, into the searing Sahara heat. Seth was still fiddling with his bow and arrows.
“You look like you’ve done something very, very dirty,” he teased. “You’re blushing like a poppy.”
I scowled at him.
‘Hmm…” He smiled. “I didn’t know you had it in you Isis, I really didn’t. You’re a baby killer now. Who would have thought, hey?”
I thought my heart would thump its way out of my chest. Everything sounded faint, distant. ‘Can we go now?”
“Sure thing.” He lifted his gaze to meet mine and smiled. “I heard all the grunting.”
“What grunting?” I didn’t trust myself to look at him. I averted my eyes, thinking he’d discern something in them that would betray me. He strolled up to me casually and grabbed me by the shoulders. His strong hands began squeezing, rubbing, and caressing.
“Eyes are the windows of the soul Isis, and your eyes tell me that you did the right thing,” he said, planting a kiss on my lips. “You know, you’re just so different from your sister. So lively, so fresh, and so active. There’s so much fight in you, so much courage, so much willpower. That’s what I love most about you sister.”
In hindsight, that’s what he probably hated most about me. That coupled with the fact that I was usually one step ahead of him. Twelve years later, the wheel of chance brought Seth face to face with a young boy called Ammon. The name Ammon, being a reference to something hidden that was revealed by a god, would have stirred suspicion in Seth. Too much suspicion actually. Why would any parent name their child The Hidden One? You might imagine the kaleidoscope of emotions he passed through; the confusion, the shock, the fireworks display of anger, the warped sense of betrayal he may have felt, when Ammon began narrating the story of how his parents stumbled upon him twelve years ago, wrapped in a little bundle of linen and perched between the branches of a willow tree half way between Denderah and Abydos. To be blatantly honest with you, I actually felt the electric shock sizzling through his very being the minute he made the connection. I also felt his fist of fury powering into my gut, his nails of hate piercing deep into the flesh of my back. He knew that he’d been duped; he’d been duped by a woman, and he wasn’t one bit happy about it. But he wasn’t prepared to let it go. He never let anything go.
Seth was quick to act, pardon the pun. His temperament darkened like a dark sky ready to bombard the fertile earth with its sperm-filled rain. There was an aura of melancholy, of depression, of disenchantment. He explained to Ammon that his wife Nephthys was suffering from a debilitating illness, an illness that would inevitably claim her life unless she ingested the antidote, a wild pollen which could be collected from the lotus flowers of the south. The irony, according to Seth, was that he possessed the medicine but could not return to Memphis because he was tending to his dying mother. Ammon, foremost of benevolent intent and brimming with childhood innocence, offered to mediate in the role of messenger. It wasn’t long before Seth had equipped him with a donkey, a flask which contained the antidote, and a thermos which he instructed Ammon to drink from only after he’d crossed the shallow water of a tributary which hindered the road to Memphis. Little did the youngster know that that particular tributary was a death trap; nobody had every crossed it and lived to tell the tale.
The donkey wouldn’t take one step into the gushing waters when they’d finally reached the tributary. It just stood there braying, its limbs locked in a position that suggested it had been detained by deep fear. No amount of flicking of the reigns, no tapping of the heel against its sides would encourage the animal to move. Ammon’s last resort was to slap it on its rear with a riding crop, once, twice, three times, before it ventured knee-deep into the running waters. The profusion of rocks underlying the riverbed made the terrain uneven, and the donkey lost its footing on many occasions. About halfway across the donkey stumbled over a large boulder, knocking Ammon from his saddle.
The splash must’ve been the signal the river dwellers been waiting for. Two reptilian eyes, cold and visceral, broke through to the surface of the brackish, brown-green waters like submarines just surfaced. The mound grew to reveal a long snout lined with jagged teeth, one whose crunching power could easily sever tendons and shatter bones. It was the much-feared and brazen Nile crocodile. It had been there all along, motionless, camouflaged by the dirt, waiting patiently for the opportune time to strike, to take its victim unawares. A little beyond another set of eyes blinked open, then two more to the left of those. There was a sudden explosion, a whirlwind of movement erupting from all directions. The tributary was now alive with predators that had been waiting silently for an easy meal.
Ammon was in mortal danger, and I had to act fast. I projected my ka double into the body of a wedge-tailed eagle which had been circling in the skies overhead. This was the real deal. The brief moment of giddiness and disorientation which comes as a consequence of possessing any of Mother Nature’s inferior vessels can be frightening, but it’s well worth the discomfort if you wish to experience the ethereal sense of freedom and universality that the gods feel every time they decide to yield fate by playing with the contingencies of matter. I glanced down, catching a glimpse of Ammon as he struggled against the current. It was powerful, and prevented him from scrambling to his feet and onto the safety of his saddle. The crocodile opened its jaws, ready to charge.
I manoeuvred myself directly above the cold-blooded beast, tilted my wings into position and then dropped at a speed which would have impressed the Peregrine Falcon. It was electrical, pure magic. My sharp talons dug in deep, gouging its eyes out. I withdrew before it could snap its jaws at me, thrashing my wings about as to remain outside the vicinity of its snout. The air ambush had worked. It had distracted the predator from its lethal and instinctive charge. I could see Ammon scrambling back towards the donkey, but he wasn’t mobile enough. There were more crocodiles, and they were all within striking distance. I swooped up through the hot air current, getting ready for another strike.
That’s when I caught sight of Osiris, or heard him rather. He’d channelled himself into a vessel, a formidable one at that, a male hippopotamus. There was a deafening bellow, a cacophony of noise as he emerged from a clump of bamboo stems, throwing up torrents of water with his prominent snout before charging the crocodiles. The river demons dispersed like orchid seeds just exposed to the wind; some went upstream, others crawled out of the river, others still sunk back into their mud wallows.
The commotion gave Ammon the time he needed to haul himself to safety. When he reached the other side, he pivoted, scanning the land and sky for the two animals which had intervened to save his life. Osiris had already withdrawn his ka from the hippopotamus; thus, it regained its former temperament and was now grazing quietly by the river. I, on the other hand, was still present, perched high up on the branch of a sycamore tree. From what I could see the close brush with the river monsters had shaken him. I descended to the place where had crouched to rest, and he provided a landing platform for me by extending his arm. He wasn’t the least bit hesitant or afraid.
There was disbelief in his eyes. “You talk?”
“I do,” I said. “What brings you to the marshes of Lower Egypt young man?”
He gulped. “Well, I’m delivering an antidote to a sick woman who lives in Memphis,” he said, fumbling about his waist. “Oh no, I’ve lost my thermos and the...”
Ammon’s eyes widened. “How do you…?”
“Seth sent you here, didn’t he?”
“Yes, his wife Nephthys is very sick.”
“I know who she is,” I said. “Look over there, by that sycamore tree, can you see anything?”
After a few seconds, he exclaimed “It’s the medicine! You saved it, didn’t you?”
“What’s that other thing beside it?”
“A papyrus scroll.”
“But I can’t read symbols,” Ammon said. “I’m illiterate.”
“It’s not for you. It’s for Seth’s son.”
“Seth has a son?” Ammon looked perplexed. “He didn’t mention any son to me.”
“He does.” I said. “He’s your age. Seth was so frazzled back there that he forgot to give you the papyrus scroll, so he sent it with me. The antidote is for Nephthys, and the papyrus is for his son, are we clear on that?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
“Don’t worry about the thermos,” I said. “If you stay on this path you’ll run into a freshwater spring in the next hour or so.”
Sensing that I might take off, he blurted “One more thing.”
Ammon gulped. “Who are you? Or should I say what are you?”
“That which is stronger than gold or silver.”
‘I don’t understand.”
“I am justice,” I said, propelling myself into the skies. “Stronger than gold or silver.” Soaring through the thermal currents of the sky, I disengaged myself from the awe-inspiring bird of prey, leaving it, as I had so many others, to the solitude of a rudimentary existence.
Seth was gripped by a celiac knot of apprehension when he arrived home. Something was wrong, very wrong. He could feel it like a piece of meat stuck between his teeth, in the spongy matter of his bones. Smoke was billowing from his hut. Somebody had entered the property, recently it seemed, and let his cattle, donkeys, geese and camels out of their enclosures. It was all too surreal. The pandemonium that he was so used to inflicting upon other households and families had now decided to wreak havoc upon its own spinner, creeping up to his front door on all fours and entering his hut without permission. Seth withdrew his dagger from its sheath and clambered into the hut, taking large strides as he went.
“Nephthys! Nephthys!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.
Nephthys was sprawled face down on the floor, oblivious of the toxic fumes which had begun to fill the space. Her position was unruly. “Seth?” she whimpered.
“What the hell is going on here?”
“Help me up.”
Seth offered his hand. “What happened here?”
“Um… well… there was a boy who was here. You sent him.”
Nephthys raised her hand up in the air and showed Seth a glass vial. “He said that you sent him to deliver this.”
Seth knocked it from her grasp. “How in the name of Atum did he make it here alive? Huh? How did he make it through the estuary with the crocodiles?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” she whimpered. “I can’t remember anything…”
“What the hell is this you’re holding?” Seth snatched a little papyrus scroll from her other hand. He held it out, scanning the symbols which had been inscribed in a black ink. The knot in his stomach tightened. “What the..?”
Nephthys was suddenly behind him. “It’s your writing.”
“I didn’t write this.”
“Then who did?”
Seth ran over the symbols one more time. “Where’s Aahmes?”
“Last time I saw him he was reading that scroll.”
Before Nephthys could say anymore Seth bolted out of the hut and into the darkness, beyond the neighbouring huts of the settlement, to a little den which he’d built many years ago to house the most precious, the most prized, and the most honoured of all his earthly acquisitions. His heavy footfalls were purposeful and urgent; more so than when he had to escape the premeditated ambush of two cunning lionesses or evade the charge of hippopotami he’d just orphaned. At one point, he willed his feet to grow wings, as if the act of flying there would magically teleport him to a moment in time preceding the tragedy. But it was not to be.
Seth arrived to the sight of an empty den, its unhinged door swaying in the wind. The middle-aged lion which had been kept prisoner for so long was gone. He scanned the darkness, and that’s when he caught sight of his son, or the lifeless corpse of his son, I should say. The boy had been completely eviscerated, probably upon releasing the wild animal back into the wilderness. It appears that the lion had clawed at him, mauled him, and then taken a huge chunk out of his chest. His cadaver was on its side, curled up into a foetal position, and bathed in a pool of its own blood.
“No!” Seth screamed, dropping onto to the ground beside the body. “How could Atum let something like this happen? How could he, huh?”
“What happened here?” Nephthys was behind him, stared on in disbelief.
Seth stood up and grabbed her by the hair. “This is your fault.”
“Let me go,” she pleaded. “Please.”
“Now I’m going to ask you one more time and I better get an answer,” he said, shaking her like a ragged doll. “What happened here?”
“You know exactly what happened,” she wailed, heaving for breath. “That note. That note told him to come and release it. The note which you wrote with your own hands Seth!”
“But I never wrote a note.”
“Then who, who in…”
Seth paused. “It’s somebody who knows my writing.”
“Who knows your writing?” Nephthys sniffled.
“That bitch, our sister.”
“Isis? Why would Isis do this? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“She couldn’t help herself,” Seth said. “Always meddling, always sticking her nose in matters that should be of no concern to her. But you know what? She’ll get hers, and sooner than she thinks.”
Seth bent down and picked up the body his son, hauling it over his shoulder. He began retracing his steps back to the hut.
“Where are you going? What will you do?”
Seth didn’t answer. He just walked with a mechanical, Terminator-like motion to his strides that demarcated a funnelling of rage which would not abate unless it was satisfied. He wanted revenge, and he would go to any lengths to get it, irrespective of the cost. My youngest brother was a man-beast, and he rivalled that other beast in Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra; every time you severed one of his heads, two more would grow back.