The Amulet of Amon-Ra Excerpt
Chapters 1 & 2
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The mummy lay on its back, partially wrapped in faded linen bands. Its dark skin had dried tight against the bones of its bald skull, which had a few wisps of gray hair still attached. The mummy’s only jewelry was a thin gold bracelet.
“Cool,” said Jennifer Seeley. “Grandma, come look at this!”
“No, you have to come take a look at this!” said Grandma Jo.
Jennifer glanced at her grandmother, then back at the mummy. Despite its sunken cheeks and skeletal nose, it seemed familiar somehow, although she couldn’t think why. Maybe she’d seen it in one of her books.
“Coming,” she said, trotting across the carpet to her grandmother’s side.
“Look,” said Grandma Jo, pointing at a stone fragment fastened to the wall. “It says this is part of a tomb painting.”
“So, look closely.”
Jennifer leaned forward. The painting was protected by a thin sheet of plastic. Its colors were still bright, though peeling. A young girl in a white dress stood in the typical ancient Egyptian pose, with shoulders and upper body flat, but head and legs turned to the right, as if she was walking.
The young girl’s face was finely drawn. Jennifer’s eyes widened as she realized why Grandma Jo had wanted her to see it.
“That girl looks like you, doesn’t she?” Grandma Jo said, smiling. “Except that her hair is black, not brown. Isn’t that interesting?”
“Yes,” Jennifer whispered, reaching for the figure. She gasped as a spark of static electricity leapt from the plastic to her finger.
“They do say that everyone has a double somewhere,” Grandma Jo continued cheerfully. “It looks like yours is thousands of years old.”
Was that all it was? A double? Jennifer stared at the painting. Somehow, she wasn’t sure.
“But how could I be in ancient Egypt?” she muttered, rubbing her finger.
“Eep!” said Jennifer.
She and her grandmother spun around, to see a gray-haired, dark-skinned man dressed in a three-piece suit.
“Oh!” said Grandma Jo. “You startled us!”
“I do beg your pardon,” said the man. “I only meant to find out if you needed any help. May I tell you anything about the collection?”
“This painting,” Jennifer began.
“Ah, yes. A fascinating example of tomb art. Quite unusual, actually—note the detailed features of the girl and woman. Most Egyptian art follows the traditional canon, but this has subtle differences. The artist must have been a master of his craft. The hieroglyphs are quite interesting as well. They tell the story of—”
“Daoud?” Grandma Jo interrupted. She was staring at the man. “Daoud, is that you?”
He squinted at Grandma Jo, then pulled a pair of glasses from his jacket pocket and slipped them on. His face brightened. “Miss Josephine!”
“Daoud, how wonderful to see you again, after all these years!” Grandma Jo laughed. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Daoud touched his gray hair. “My family is known for aging well,” he said, grinning. His white teeth gleamed against his dark skin. “You are still lovely.”
Grandma Jo giggled. Jennifer looked at her in astonishment. Grandma Jo, giggling?
“Who is this?” he asked, looking at Jennifer.
Grandma Jo gently prodded Jennifer forward. “My granddaughter, Jennifer. This is Daoud Elgabri. He was our tour guide, when I went on that trip to Egypt, long before you were born.”
“Jennifer?” Daoud tilted his head to one side. “Ah, yes, I can see a resemblance.”
“What are you doing in the United States?” asked Grandma Jo.
Daoud spread the fingers of his right hand over his chest and bowed slightly. “I am no longer a humble tour guide. You see before you a fully-trained Egyptologist.”
“How wonderful!” Grandma Jo exclaimed. “I told you education would help you get ahead. Are you with this exhibit, then?”
“I have the honor of being in charge. And it is all thanks to you.”
“Me?” Grandma Jo’s eyebrows flew up.
“You and your friends’ generous tips allowed me to begin my schooling,” said Daoud.
“I’m so glad! You deserved them. You were such a good guide.” She turned to Jennifer. “We saw things with him that we never would have even known existed.”
Daoud smiled. “Allow me to show you once again. I can give you a personal tour of this collection.”
“Just like you did in Egypt,” said Grandma Jo. “But without dragging me into every bazaar you can find, this time.”
“I seem to recall it was the other way around,” said Daoud, winking at Jennifer. “I would be happy to tell you about this small part of my country’s great heritage.”
“That would be lovely. Wouldn’t it, Jennifer?”
“Uh, sure,” said Jennifer.
“I bet you’ll find out more now than you would on your field trip. Her eighth grade class is coming here in a couple of weeks,” Grandma Jo confided to Daoud.
“We have several school visits on the schedule,” said Daoud. “You couldn’t wait?”
“We thought it would be quieter, especially on a Saturday morning,” said Grandma Jo.
This way, Jennifer could actually look at the artifacts, without Hannah and Ashley trying to hustle her through as quickly as possible, and without Tyler trying to trip her at every opportunity.
Daoud’s eyes crinkled. “I understand. Have you been studying my country in your class?”
“We just started,” said Jennifer. “Mrs. Goodwin let us choose our own topics.”
“And yours is?”
“The Pharaohs,” said Jennifer. “Some of them, anyway.”
“All great men,” said Daoud. “All but one,” he added, with a smile.
“You mean Hatshepsut,” said Jennifer.
“Is there anything in this collection about them?” asked Grandma Jo.
“There is a little,” said Daoud, “but most of these artifacts are from Nubia, rescued from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, which flooded much of the area when the Aswan Dam was completed. These artifacts do not travel much—not because they are rare or especially valuable, but because most people would rather see the more famous pieces.”
“Like Tutankhamen’s gold mask,” said Jennifer.
“Precisely,” said Daoud. “But I prefer the simpler things. They are so much better at telling us how the ordinary people lived, day to day.”
He tucked Grandma Jo’s arm in his and led her to a nearby display case. Jennifer, with a glance at the girl in the tomb painting, followed.
“These, for example,” said Daoud, pointing to a collection of pots, spoons, and small dishes. “They were found in the tomb with the mummy. Can you guess what they are?”
Jennifer peered at the delicate jars and plates, all made of a buttery-yellow substance. A bronze disk, propped up behind them, made a blurry reflection of three slim stone rods. A set of dishes? No, too small.
“Are they for make-up?” Jennifer asked.
“Well done!” said Daoud. “Yes, they are cosmetics containers. The stoppered vessels were probably for perfumes. Long gone by now, of course. They were for use in the afterlife.”
“I read they put food in the tombs for the mummies to eat and drink, too,” said Jennifer.
“Yes, indeed. We even have some of that here,” said Daoud. He pointed to another case that held small jugs with handles and pointed bottoms, and some round gray loaves. “They believed they needed the physical item or a representation to be comfortable. Of course, by now the bread is rock, the seeds petrified and wine only a stain in the amphorae.”
“I would have thought it would be all crumbled to dust by now,” said Grandma Jo.
“Dust, yes,” said Daoud. “There is always dust. Like the mummies, they have dried out in the desert heat.”
“Oh, it makes me thirsty just to think of it,” said Grandma Jo. “I remember it was so hot, but it was so dry that the sweat just evaporated off of us.”
Daoud chuckled. “I wish I could offer you a glass of ice-cold karkadeh.”
“Mmm,” said Grandma Jo. She answered Jennifer’s unspoken question. “Hibiscus tea, cooled and sweetened. It’s delicious.”
“Perhaps you will visit Egypt someday, and taste it for yourself,” said Daoud. “Meanwhile, let me show you the rest of this collection.”
He drew them into a second room, which held more display cases, filled with the small figurines called ushabti, which were supposed to take the place of the dead in the fields of the gods, so they could take their ease in the afterlife. There were also dozens of amulets in the shapes of scarab beetles, animals, eyes of Horus, and the looped crosses called ankhs.
“Hundreds of amulets have been found all over Egypt, most of them originally entombed with the mummies,” Daoud explained. “They were worn throughout life, and many more were wrapped in the layers of linen shrouds at the wearer’s death, placed at throat, wrists and forehead. They were worn for protection and luck.”
Standing as if they were guarding the room were several mannequins dressed as the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt.
“I know these!” said Jennifer, recognizing them. “There’s Isis, with the wings and half-moon headdress. That green-skinned guy is Osiris, her husband. He’s wrapped in linen like a mummy, because he’s Lord of the Dead. And there’s Horus, their son, with the head of a hawk.”
“He is flanked by two goddesses,” Daoud said, smiling. “Hathor, the cow goddess; and lion-headed Sekhmet. Both were guardians of the young god.”
By itself in a corner of the room was another mannequin, next to a stone scarab the size of a dinner plate. Like Horus, he was bare-chested but for a pectoral of colored beads, and he also wore a white pleated skirt, the Egyptian kilt. His head was topped by a tall, split crown.
“Who’s that?” asked Jennifer.
“Amon-Ra, city-god of Thebes,” said Daoud. “A handsome fellow, is he not?”
“At least he has a human head,” said Grandma Jo.
“Mm, yes,” said Daoud. “Now, let me show you the pride of our collection.”
“The mummy?” asked Jennifer.
“Oh, must we?” asked Grandma Jo. “I’m not too fond of them.”
“I thought you saw some when you went to Egypt,” said Jennifer.
“Yes, but only animals. Some crocodiles and a cat. They were bad enough. Harriet was the one who went into the mummy room at the museum in Cairo.” Grandma Jo shuddered. “They give me the willies.”
“Well, I’d like to know about it,” said Jennifer. “Was it found in the same tomb as the painting?”
“No, they are from separate tombs,” said Daoud. He gestured that Jennifer should lead them back to the other room. Grandma Jo followed, but stayed well behind.
“Who was she?” asked Jennifer, looking down at the mummy.
“Alas, we do not know,” said Daoud. “She was found, like so many others, in a cache of mummies, in an unmarked tomb. Mummies were often removed from their own tombs to save them from looting by grave robbers. We only know that she is from the Eighteenth Dynasty, and died sometime around 1500 B.C.”
“That’s, let’s see, about thirty-five hundred years ago,” said Jennifer, “right?”
“Absolutely right,” said Daoud. “Do you know much about mummies?”
“I know they removed the mummies’ liver, lungs, stomach and intestines,” said Jennifer. She nodded at a collection of four stone jars in a display case some distance away. “They kept them in jars like those.”
“The canopic jars, yes. The heart, the seat of memory and thought, however, they left in the body cavity,” said Daoud.
“But they pulled the brains out through the noses and threw them away.”
“They thought the brains weren’t worth anything,” Daoud said, with a smile.
“I know some people whose brains sure aren’t,” said Jennifer, thinking of Tyler and his annoying practical jokes.
“So do I,” said Daoud, his eyes creasing. “So, tell me what came next, in the matter of mummification.”
“Um. After that, they packed the body in natron, a kind of salt, and then let it dry out for seventy days.”
“Quite correct. Then the mummy was wrapped in layers of linen and placed in its sarcophagus to begin the journey to the afterworld.” Daoud grinned. “Pickled and packaged, I remember one tourist saying, all for the sake of immortality.”
“You know your subject,” said Daoud. “Do you want to become an Egyptologist?”
“I don’t know.” Jennifer shrugged. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Of course. Well, that is the extent of this traveling collection,” said Daoud. “Wait a moment, though, please.” He strode into the other room.
Jennifer went to stand by Grandma Jo, who was carefully not looking at the mummy.
“Where did Daoud go?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Jennifer. “He just said to wait. I wanted to ask him more about that tomb painting.” Jennifer started to walk over to it, but Daoud returned, carrying a small cloth bag.
“For you,” he said, pulling an intricate beaded necklace from the bag. He handed it to Grandma Jo.
“Oh, Daoud, you don’t have to do that,” said Grandma Jo, admiring the way the beads glittered in the light. “I have nothing for you…“
”Your presence is enough to brighten my day,” said Daoud.
“Well…thank you,” said Grandma Jo. “It’s beautiful.”
Daoud turned to Jennifer. “And for you.” He laid a heavy, cool item in her hand.
Jennifer looked at it. “A scarab! Wow!”
The gold-flecked dark blue stone amulet just filled her palm. Lines cut into the top formed the outline of a head and wings. Along the edges, more scoring gave the impression of an insect’s bent legs; and at the top of the scarab, a hole had been drilled so it could be worn as a pendant.
“Daoud, is that what I think it is?” asked Grandma Jo. “That’s a family heirloom! I remember you showing it to me when we visited your house. You can’t give it away.”
“I have no children, and I am the last of my siblings.” Daoud shrugged. “I am happy to give it to someone who will truly appreciate it.”
“Thanks!” said Jennifer.
“Sacred to Ra, scarab amulets were thought to have mystical powers and be linked to the wearer’s life force, or ka,” said Daoud. “They were also said to be effective against demons.”
“Demons?” Grandma Jo laughed.
“The ancient Egyptians were much concerned with them,” Daoud explained.
“I’m sure it will help Jennifer with any she might encounter.”
Daoud looked at his watch. “I would like to tell you more, but I have a meeting that I must attend. Perhaps when you return, we can talk again, Je…Jennifer.”
With a brief bow, he was gone.
Grandma Jo shook her head. “He hasn’t slowed down a bit. Harriet and I always had a hard time keeping up with him.” She glanced at her own watch. “I guess we should go, too. I promised your mother I’d have you home by lunch.”
Jennifer gave the tomb painting one last look on the way out. “I hope I find out more about that.”
“I hope you do, too.”
It had rained while they were in the museum. Grandma Jo retrieved her shapeless black bag from the coat check staff and pulled a folded umbrella out of it. Jennifer loved her bag; it always seemed to have more stuff and more room in it than was logically possible.
Grandma Jo’s car was parked across the street. Jennifer tried jumping a wide puddle, but missed, thoroughly soaking her feet. When she got into the car, she put the scarab on the dashboard, fastened her seatbelt, and took off her socks and shoes. Grandma Jo started the car and turned on the heat.
As she pulled away from the curb, the front tire dipped into a pothole. Jennifer grabbed the scarab before it could slide to the floor.
“I wish they’d fix these streets,” Grandma Jo grumbled as she merged into traffic.
The cool stone of the scarab warmed in Jennifer’s hands. It was dulled with age, but still beautiful. She flipped it over, to discover that the base was covered in hieroglyphs, tiny but precise. She thought some of them might be similar to the ones on the tomb painting.
Most hieroglyphs were basic sounds. Early Egyptologists had made their best guess at where the vowels were supposed to go, as hieroglyphs didn’t indicate that.
“Ma,” she said, tracing some that she recognized with her fingernail. “Ka. Re. Dje. Nefer. Huh.”
“What?” asked Grandma Jo, concentrating on the traffic.
“Nothing,” said Jennifer. “It’s just that these sort of sounded like my name.”
“That’s nice,” said Grandma Jo, swerving to avoid a dip in the road.
There were more hieroglyphs. Jennifer wet her finger and rubbed the moisture across the carvings to see them better. Three tiny ones marched down one side of the base. These had meanings, as well as sounds. The first was a pair of legs, which meant “to walk” or “to travel.” Next, there was a shape like an “X.” That meant “to separate” or “to break.” And then there was a carving of a scarab.
To travel—somewhere—break the beetle? Did that mean, break the scarab itself?
Jennifer slouched in the seat and stared at the amulet. It had warmed up now, and felt almost hot to the touch. Perhaps the “X” meant “open,” not “break.” She turned it over, but didn’t see any opening. Along the edge, though, where the lines that indicated the legs were scored, there seemed to be an extra line. It was so thin, she hadn’t noticed it before. It went all the way around the amulet.
Jennifer wriggled a thumbnail into it. The line widened. Several tiny amber grains fell into her hand.
“What’s that smell?” asked Grandma Jo, pulling ahead to pass the slow vehicle in front of her.
“My feet?” Jennifer suggested, wriggling her toes under the blast of warm air from the heater.
“No, it’s sharp, and a little bitter, but pleasant.”
“Can’t be my feet, then,” said Jennifer. She could smell it now, too. She lifted her hand and the scent increased. Was it coming from the scarab? She sniffed at it.
Grandma Jo chuckled, then frowned. “We’re going to be late. Look at the time!”
“Yes—oh, no! Brace yourself!”
The car hit another pothole. The amulet, which Jennifer held close to her face, popped open. She gasped as the lid swung back. Dust puffed out, filling her nose and mouth. As she breathed it in, she was struck with a sickening dizziness.
Her mind swirled—and was sucked down into a glittering, black velvet nothing.
Jennifer opened her eyes. Dust particles glimmered in the bright sunlight that poured in from a high, barred window.
For a moment, confusing images of a sparkling darkness, an insect and a man wearing a crown floated through her mind. Then they were gone, like the memory of a dream.
A heavy weight pressed down on her ribs. She lifted her head and peered blearily into a pair of bright yellow eyes.
“Mrr?” a skinny spotted cat with ears too large for its head had its forelegs braced on her chest. Jennifer blinked. The little cat hissed at her, then leaped away and skittered through an open doorway, as fast as its legs would take it.
Jennifer took a startled breath as the small room came into better focus. One of the walls was a woven brown curtain, but the other three were solid. All of them, including the curtain, were decorated with bright Egyptian-style drawings of plants, animals and people. The vivid colors glowed in the light from the window.
“Where am I?” Jennifer mumbled. Her mind felt fuzzy. She’d been at the museum, and…and what? There had been a mummy. That was all she could remember.
She struggled to sit upright, but her body didn’t want to obey her. It didn’t feel quite right. It was like wearing a shirt that was too tight in some places and too loose in others. Her arms trembled as she pushed against the mattress. At last, she managed to maneuver herself upright, with her back against the wall. Her legs, half-off the mattress, were tangled in a thin white sheet. In her struggle, she knocked over a crescent-shaped clay brick that had been at the head of her bed. She set it straight with a shaky hand—and froze.
The hand had dark brown skin. Both her hands were dark, with paler skin on the palms. She reached up to feel her face. Her nose and lips and ears felt the same, but there was something wrong with her hair. She pulled a long strand around in front of her eyes and stared at it. Her own hair was straight, a light brown. This stuff was thick, black and wavy. She tugged on it, hard.
“Ow!” she said at the sharp pain in her scalp. “Okay. Not a wig. This is weird.” Her voice was hoarse.
Jennifer wobbled to her feet, holding the wall for support, and looked around. The only other items in the room were two red clay pots, polished smooth. The wooden floor creaked as she stumbled towards them. One of them held a collection of beads and fabric dolls. The other was empty, but she thought she could guess what it was for. She wrinkled her nose at the faint acrid smell.
With one hand still on the wall, Jennifer staggered through the doorway through which the little cat had run. It turned out to be a larger room, furnished with more items. A thick mattress covered a low bed, wider than her own. It had sturdy wooden legs and a raised lip at the bottom. It was tilted slightly upwards at the head, where two leather-covered crescent shapes rested. Beside the bed was a small, spindly-legged wooden table with one large drawer and a graceful low chair with a curved seat and wooden legs that ended in beast paws.
Another doorway led from the room into what looked like a garden. Jennifer glimpsed a bright blue sky and the flat sides of other buildings over a fence of tall, waving plants.
For a moment, her vision blurred, as though she was seeing through a lens that wasn’t quite focused. Then it cleared again.
“Dje-Nefer?” someone called.
“Eep!” said Jennifer. She’d thought she was alone!
“Dje-Nefer, are you up?” It was a woman’s voice. It seemed to be coming from the rooftop garden.
Jennifer crept through the door and looked around, but there was no one there.
“Dje-Nefer! Come and have your breakfast.”
Jennifer padded down the narrow path, between the tall staked vegetables. There was a foot-high wall of bricks in the middle, outlining what looked to be a hole in the roof. Jennifer peered into it. A black-haired, dark-skinned woman smiled up at her from the floor below. Her eyes were outlined with thick black lines. It was no one Jennifer knew.
“Ah, there you are,” she said. “Are you awake yet?”
“I’m not sure,” said Jennifer.
The woman laughed. “Come eat, dear one. I let you sleep in today, but that’s long enough.”
“C-coming,” said Jennifer. Her voice was hoarse.
She looked for stairs, but there weren’t any on the rooftop. Jennifer returned through the doorway to the large room, then stopped and stared. The wall above and beside the door to the smaller room where she had awoken was covered in more bright paintings. A beautiful woman spread her protecting wings over the door, framing it on one side, while another woman with long curved horns on her head reached from the other. Isis and Hathor. Whoever had painted them was a wonderful artist.
Beside the door was another hole in the floor, like the one in the garden. Stairs jutted out from the wall, descending to the floor below. Jennifer braced one palm against the wall as she took the stairs one at a time, trying not to trip on the hem of her dress. The stairs led to a large room with a tiled floor that was cool under her feet. The room was dim, a small barred window like the one upstairs being the only source of light. She thought she could make out a few pieces of delicate furniture.
“Hurry up, please, Dje-Nefer,” said the woman.
“How does she know my name?” Jennifer whispered. “Even if she is saying it wrong.”
She followed the voice into another room, this one obviously a cooking area, though not like any kitchen that Jennifer had ever seen. There were no tables or counters, and the only furniture was a set of wooden shelves laden with pots and bowls. Thanks to the hole in the roof, this room was full of sunlight, illuminating the woman. She had pulled up the hem of her long white dress and was kneeling on the floor, rolling a smooth round rock on top of a flat stone that had been laid between the tiles. She looked up, and Jennifer realized who the model for Hathor had been.
“Here is your breakfast,” she said, pointing to a small bowl and mug on a striped mat laid out on the floor. Jennifer sat. The bowl was full of a warm, grainy porridge, dotted with glossy black morsels. Jennifer sniffed. It didn’t smell too bad, and she was hungry. She looked for a spoon, but there wasn’t one. She opened her mouth to ask for one, but some inner caution told her not to. Shrugging, she dipped her fingers into the bowl and scooped some of the mush into her mouth.
Jennifer’s eyebrows rose in appreciation. The black bits turned out to be sweet and juicy, the grains crunchy and tart. She ate it all, then reached for the mug. Spicy, hot tea cleared her mouth and her mind.
Beside her, the woman lifted some grains out of a clay pot and sprinkled them on the flat stone. Jennifer watched her roll the rock over the grains, crushing them in quick, practiced strokes.
“Finished?” the woman asked. “Good, you can help me with the bread then.”
The woman now had a respectable pile of fine brown powder, ground from the grains. She scooped it up with both hands and poured it into a terra cotta bowl. After making a small indentation in the center of the powder, she dribbled a bit of liquid into the bowl from a small pot decorated with a hippopotamus on the lid.
“Here, knead this for me while I stoke up the fire,” she said, handing the bowl to Jennifer.
The dough inside was sticky and smelled of yeast. Jennifer rolled and punched the dough, using her shoulders the way Grandma Jo had taught her. She stopped, her eyes widening. Grandma Jo—was she here, too? Wherever ‘here’ was. Grandma Jo had been with her when…Jennifer frowned, then shook her head. She couldn’t remember.
“What’s wrong?” asked the woman.
“Uh,” said Jennifer. “Nothing.” She started kneading again.
The kitchen, already quite warm, was getting hotter as the woman raked up coals in a brick-lined fireplace in a corner of the room. When the coals were bright red, she wedged two round-bottomed clay pots well into the pile.
“Done?” she asked Jennifer. “Good job. We’ll let it rise while the ovens heat up.”
Jennifer nodded. The woman gave her a puzzled look.
“You’re awfully quiet this morning,” she said.
“Uh, just tired, I guess,” said Jennifer.
The woman laughed as she covered the dough with a cloth. “I’m not surprised. You were up very late last night, watching the sky-goddess. Ramose found you asleep in the garden, with only Nut’s stars for company, and carried you to your bed. You didn’t wake even when Mentmose got up this morning.”
“Oh,” said Jennifer, wondering who Ramose and Mentmose were.
“Now pick up your dishes, dear, and put them in the washing bowl.” The woman pointed vaguely at a corner of the room where several large bowls rested on the floor. “Don’t forget to pour some water over them this time, or they will dry. You remember how hard you had to scrub yesterday.”
Jennifer carried her dishes to the corner and peeked in each bowl. One of them already had mugs and bowls in it, soaking in water. She dutifully scooped up some of the dirty water with her mug and poured it in her bowl, then put both items in with the rest.
“We’ll have to get more water today,” said the woman. “Our jug is nearly empty.”
A tall teenage boy, wearing only a dusty, stained kilt flung himself into the room. His chest was bare, except for a necklace of red and black beads. He grinned when he saw Jennifer.
“About time you were up, minnow,” he said. His black hair was almost as long as Jennifer’s, but it was tied back in a ponytail. The lines around his eyes were smudged. “I wish I could get away with sleeping in.”
“Mentmose, you are fifteen now, and since you insist that you are a man, you must also hold to a man’s work and a man’s hours,” said the woman. “If Ramose rises early, then so must you.”
Mentmose grimaced. “I know.” But his smiled returned quickly. “The minnow will have to hold to a woman’s hours soon enough.”
“She is not yet fourteen, nor is she betrothed, as you are.”
Mentmose grunted and rolled his eyes.
“Was there something you wanted?” the woman asked.
“Oh! Yes. Father asks me to ask you to buy him some polishing powder next time you go to the market.”
“Why? He usually does that himself,” the woman protested.
“I do,” said a man who came striding through the doorway. He was dressed almost identically to Mentmose, except that his kilt was cleaner and his eye makeup tidy. “But I have a commission to complete as soon as possible. And Meryt-Re, you are so much better than I at charming old Hapu. He is sure to give you a lower price than he does for me.”
The woman—Meryt-Re—chuckled. “Flatterer. All right, husband, I will do your shopping for you.”
“Thank you. Oh—has my brother come by yet?” asked her husband. “He said he was going to.”
“No, Ramose,” Meryt-Re began. She stopped, as they all heard a knock. “That may be him.”
“I’ll check,” said Ramose, and left the room. A moment later, he returned, another man beside him.
Jennifer blinked in surprise. She had expected to see someone just like Ramose, but this man was completely hairless, except for his eyebrows, which, she realized, were only painted on. Like the others, his eyes were outlined by thick black makeup, but his extended in two lines halfway to his ears. His white, intricately-pleated kilt was spotless. The skin of a leopard was tied over one shoulder, its head and large paws flopping down his bare chest. He stood taller than Ramose, but had the same general features, though his were composed in an expression of great gravity.
“Good morning, Neferhotep,” said Meryt-Re, smiling at him.
“Good morning,” he said, his voice and face solemn.
“Have they given you some time off from your temple duties today?” asked Meryt-Re.
“A little time,” said Neferhotep. “Enough to visit my family, at least.”
“Wonderful. We don’t see you often enough, now that you’ve become a priest of Amon-Ra,” said Meryt-Re. “Would you like something to eat?”
Neferhotep grinned, suddenly looking younger. “Your cooking is better than any at the temple, Meryt-Re,” he said. “I would be delighted, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Meryt-Re laughed. “Dje-Nefer just finished her breakfast. There is still some in the pot.”
“So, is this the reason you asked to visit today?” asked Ramose, smiling. “So you could cadge a meal?”
Neferhotep blushed, his dark skin turning a reddish-brown. “Of course not.”
“No?” asked Meryt-Re, her brows rising.
“Well…yes. But I also came to ask if you would be able to provide me with some more of your work, Ramose. My superior, Ka-Aper, liked the pieces I showed him. He asked where I had gotten them, and wanted to know if there were more.”
“Ka-Aper? The sem priest?” asked Ramose.
“Yes. As a priest of the first rank, he performs most of the Opening of the Mouth ceremonies for noble mummies,” said Neferhotep.
“Father—to have a sem priest request our amulets,” he said, his eyes shining.
“And does it not count that I request them all the time?” asked Neferhotep, with a solemn face, but with a twinkle in his eye.
“Well, yes, but you’re just Uncle Neferhotep,” said Mentmose.
“And also a newly-minted priest of Amon-Ra,” said Ramose, with a frown at his son, “and therefore deserving of your respect.” He turned to Neferhotep. “When does Ka-Aper want to see my work? I can bring some pieces to the temple.”
Neferhotep winced. “Well, that’s the other reason I came by. I told him he could join us for dinner. Here.”
“Here? When?” said Meryt-Re, handing him a bowl.
“Um. Tonight,” he said, sniffing appreciatively.
“Tonight!” said Meryt-Re, her eyes widening. “Well, I suppose. But I’ll have to buy some food. I don’t really have the right ingredients for a meal with such a noble guest.”
“I can give you a temple papyrus for use at the market,” said Neferhotep, around a mouthful of porridge. “It would entitle you to any goods you may wish to use it for.”
“That would help,” said Meryt-Re. “I could also trade some of the barley cakes I baked this morning. Oh, Neferhotep, must it be tonight?”
He nodded. “It was the only time Ka-Aper had free.” Neferhotep handed her the empty bowl.
“I just don’t know,” said Meryt-Re.
“It could advance Ramose’s career. And mine, frankly. I told him how good a cook you are, but I don’t think he believed me. You could prove it to him.”
“Oh, all right,” said Meryt-Re, absently passing the bowl to Jennifer.
“Tell him we would be honored,” said Ramose, standing straighter.
“Excellent!” said Neferhotep. “Thank you.”
Meryt-Re waved this off, frowning. “We’ll have to go to the market as soon as possible, then, if I am to shop. It is later than I like. All the best items will already be gone.”
Jennifer took Neferhotep’s empty dish to the washing bowl, remembering to pour water into it, though it hardly needed cleaning. Neferhotep had wiped it bare.
“I wonder what I should make,”said Meryt-Re.
“How about duck?” suggested Ramose, his voice hopeful.
Meryt-Re smiled at him. “I know how you love them, Ramose, but it may not be possible. Meat like that has been scarce lately.”
“Because of the drought, I know,” said Ramose, sighing. “Everything is getting scarce.”
“The Pharaoh is very concerned about it,” said Neferhotep.
“No doubt,” said Meryt-Re, with a slight grimace. “Well. Our bread should be risen by the time we return from shopping. I can bake it then. Come, Dje-Nefer.”
“M-me?” said Jennifer, startled.
“Of course,” said Meryt-Re. “I’ll need your help carrying the baskets.” She gestured at a stack of them in one corner of the room.
“I need to go, too,” said Neferhotep. “We are meeting with Parahotep today to discuss his funerary rites. He is almost at his life’s end. The doctors can do nothing for him.”
“Is he the one who wants to preserve his brain?” asked Mentmose, smirking.
“Yes,” said Neferhotep, shaking his head. “He has a theory that the brain has a use. Well, at least he is willing to concede that the other organs are more important.” He dug in a pouch that hung from the thin leather strap over his shoulder and handed a small roll of papyrus to Meryt-Re. “Here is a temple chit. It will entitle you to a measure of food.”
“Thank you,” said Meryt-Re, unrolling it. The papyrus was crammed with hieroglyphs. “Are you sure it says what it is supposed to say?”
“It is my own work,” said Neferhotep, with a lift of his chin.
“It’s very nice,” she assured him.
“And I almost forgot this, too,” said Neferhotep. “My apologies.”
He pulled something from underneath his leopard skin and gave it to Ramose.
“Ah, yes,” said Ramose. “You showed it to Ka-Aper?”
“Yes. It’s why he wanted to see more. He asked if he could keep it, since it is a sign sacred to Amon-Ra, but I had to tell him no.”
“As well,” said Ramose. “I made this for a very special young lady. I was going to wait for your birth anniversary.” He glanced at Meryt-Re, who rolled her eyes.
“Oh, all right,” she said, “but please be quick about it.”
“Can you guess who this is for?” asked Ramose, smiling at Jennifer.
She shook her head, bewildered.
“For my beautiful daughter,” said Ramose. He allowed the item to fall from his hand, where it dangled, spinning in the sunlight.
Jennifer gasped. The amulet!