Early morning sunlight glinted on the sand and bounced off the rocks rising in erratic patterns from the ground. Merin gripped the saddle with one hand and the reins with the other. The swaying rhythm of the camel lulled her into a fugue state. Her eyes drifted shut and her thoughts wandered to the past. Once again she stood in the courtyard of the women’s court of the temple the priests of Aken Re had stolen from the priests of Toth.
The fat priest raised his hands. The strange words he chanted rose in pitch. Dark clouds gathered. Bast Ka, sacred cat of the goddess, grew larger and attacked. Merin screamed.
A soft meow and a rumbling purr pulled her from the scene that had haunted her for days. How much longer would she continue to see that incident on the day of her escape? That had been the moment she deserted Tira. Merin’s stomach lurched. She swallowed again and again to keep from spewing all she’d eaten and drunk during the long days of aimless flight.
Was Bast Ka an avatar of the goddess? With one hand she stroked the cat’s silky gray fur. With each touch she repeated the command she’d been given. “Go to the delta. Find the pharaoh-to-be.” Would finding him complete her task or was there more?
She glanced at the rising sun and knew midday would soon arrive. Shelter was needed. She scanned the horizon for a refuge from the sun’s hot rays. Did those distant rocks promise shelter? Were they really there or was this a vision caused by the bright light?
She touched the nearly empty water sack. What would she do if she couldn’t find a source of sweet water? Even with the water, her remaining food supply had dwindled and she had no coins to buy more. Once again she regretted the spooked flight,
She neared the jagged rocks and saw an order to their placement. Merin urged the camel forward. Bast Ka leaped to the ground and dashed away. When the camel reached the fallen stones she found a pool of clear water shaded by a rocky overhang. She tapped the camel and dismounted.
As she explored the rocks she realized this had once been a
Before setting camp, Merin prowled the ruins. She found no bones of humans or sacred cats, only the shattered images. Though she wanted to blame the enemy for the destruction there was no proof. The temple could have been laid waste during the war that had occurred in the year of her birth. She would never know the answers.
She hobbled the camel in a patch of grass beneath a palm tree. This done she set her camp. Bast Ka brought a huge lizard. Merin skinned the creature. She seared some of the meat in a small fire and added the rest and the last of the lentils to water and set it to cook beneath the sun’s heated rays. With a sigh she curled on her blanket beneath the wide overhang. The cat lay beside her.
Merin’s thoughts churned with questions. Would she ever learn what had happened to her friends? Were Namose, Tira and Kashe safe? Had they delivered the symbols of the rule to a safe place? Why had Bast Ka deserted Tira? Not that Merin disliked the cat’s companionship. Did the avatar’s presence mean she was now the focus of the goddess’ power?
A shudder racked her body as images of the death of Pian and the fat priest surfaced. The screams had deafened her and sent her into panicked flight, only pausing long enough the grab the packs she had prepared. The arrival of a saddled camel driven from the animal pens by a jaglon had seemed welcome. She had planned to stop at the temple for the pharaoine’s jewelry, but the animal had bolted through an opening in the gates.
Merin wasn’t sure how many days had passed since the escape. She’d succumbed to the panic and days had flown past before she’d thought to count. She shifted position and finally slept.