Tira opened her eyes and stifled a gasp. Where was she? The surface beneath her was softened by a thin pad. She turned her head and bumped her temple against a hard surface. Some kind of headrest prevented her from appraising her vicinity. The substitute for a pillow wasn’t very comfortable. The cover felt like linen rather than the thin cotton sheet she used. She raised herself to a sitting position and the sheet slid to her waist. Light streamed through a series of openings set high on one of the white plastered walls.
Her heart fluttered in a series of rapid beats. Think. Had she been kidnapped and sold as some kind of sex slave? She drew a deep breath. Why did nothing smell familiar? She was Tira. Tears trickled down her cheeks. Someone had died. Why couldn’t she remember who had betrayed her?
Tira wiped her face on a corner of the sheet. With that word memories prickled with the same sensation in her head as when an arm or leg woke after falling asleep.
If you could go to ancient
tonight even if the Two Lands
is not the one you’ve studied, would you go? Egypt
She had agreed. Had she somehow been transported to another
Egypt? So far she’d seen nothing to prove or
disprove the theory. The bed and the
headrest had been pictured in books she’d read about the ancient land of the
Now what? She couldn’t remain in bed and she definitely couldn’t leave this room in the nude. Clothing was her first objective. She slid from the narrow cot and nearly fell. The bed stood on a wide platform. Tira visually explored the room and noticed a stack of near-white cloth on a backless bench. She wrapped the sheet around herself and crossed the room.
On a low table she found a pottery pitcher and a bowl. She dipped a cloth taken from the rim of the bowl into the water and washed. The heated air dried her skin.
As she studied the bench she noticed the legs were shaped like the feet of a feline. She drew a deep breath. She had arrived in ancient
Egypt. One by one she lifted the pieces of cloth
from the bench and studied them. Get
dressed and learn where you are and why you’re here.
After several attempts she managed to clothe herself. One strip formed a breast band. A second, she used as a loincloth. The third was a wraparound short skirt rather like a kilt. A leather belt held a knife and a pouch containing a black substance she decided was kohl. Since she had no idea how to apply the stuff she decided to pass.
She looked for shoes and found sandals. She sat on the bench and slipped a foot beneath the leather straps. She drew the shin guards up her leg and fastened the leather ties. Surprisingly they fit. The leather soles didn’t slip on the stone floor when she performed a series of warm-up exercises.
The beaded curtains in the doorway rattled. Tira slid into an attack position. Two elderly women entered the room. Tira stared. Were they the ones who had sheltered her for a time? They looked similar.
One of the women wore the same clothes as Tira. Her graying hair was cropped short like Tira’s but the woman’s didn’t curl.
The second woman’s hair was dark and cut shoulder length. Was it a wig? The woman’s ankle-length sheath bared her breasts. A collar necklace covered her upper chest.
When Tira tried to talk about the world she’d left the words wouldn’t form.
The only knowledge you can take with you is what will fit into the time you reach except for your fighting skills. You will be unable to speak of this world or of modern conveniences.
She glided toward the women. If they proved to be a threat she would attack.
“Welcome to the Two Lands,” the older of the two said. “I am the chief priestess of this temple of the goddess Bast, protector of women and children. A cat with a cream-colored coat wove a path around her legs.
Bast. She had read about the goddess, one of the minor ones in the ancient
Egypt of her world. Was Bast a major player in this time and
place? What other changes would she find? She swallowed a gasp. How odd that she understood the
language. “My name is Tira.” She could speak it as well. She crouched and allowed the feline to sniff
The priestess smiled. “Come and join us for a meal. We will tell you why you are with us. You are one of the awaited ones. There is a task the goddess has set for you.” She turned to her companion. “Do you have the amulet that marks her as a warrior of Bast?”
“I do.” The other woman smiled. “I am the head of the warriors of this temple. Do you willing accept your task?”
Even if you must remain for all your days.
Again she heard part of what the elderly women of the brownstone had asked. She was here and there was no possible return. “I do.” She met the woman’s gaze. “What if I fail?”
The priestess shuddered. “There will be imprisonment or death.”
Tira swallowed. But she would have found the same future in her own world. “I won’t fail.” She made the vow aloud and silently.
The warrior held a chain of silver links with a large silver medallion hanging from the center link. Tira studied the piece. A cat formed from smoky blue-gray gems formed the center of the circle. Above the image were lapis hieroglyphics. Tira read them. “
Bast.” She bent her knees so the shorter
woman could slip the chain over her head/
“Where in the Two Lands am I?”
“In the nome of Mero.”
Tira pictured a map of the
didn’t recognize the name. Was she in
the north or the south? “Where exactly
is this nome?”
“Near the first cataract,” the chief priestess said.
In the south, Tira thought.
Tira followed the women along a corridor. The wall on the left was higher than the one on the right. Did the left wall form the rear of the temple?
They entered a large room where ornate columns braced the roof and allowed a view of the garden. Backless stools were arranged in clusters. Women dressed like the chief priestess sat near small tables.
The priestess chose seats in a secluded niche. “Sit. Food will be brought.”
Before long, women carried plates and trays of food to the table. Tira selected from a variety of dishes, some she recognized and some she didn’t. There were lentils and chickpeas, beef and some type of fowl, a variety of lettuces, onions both cooked and raw and cheese. Wine and beer were offered. Tira accepted beer. She sipped the bitter brew and put the cup down. The alcohol content of the beverage was more than the kind she knew. She needed food to counter the effect of the alcohol. Once she finished the food on her plate honey-sweetened dates appeared.
She swallowed the last of the beer and looked from one woman to the other. “What would you have me do?”
“You are our hope,” the priestess said. “With the help of the goddess you were brought from a far land to this troubled place. The invaders came with their horses and chariots. Like a plague of locusts they swept through the land leaving destruction behind. Three treasures, gifts from the major gods, were removed from the pharaoh’s house. Before those who took the symbols of the role were able to report their location they were killed. Their deaths took place in the Valley of the Pharaohs. Thus the flail, the crook and the double crown were lost.”
The warrior took up the tale. “Twenty years ago the invaders were driven from the land. The pharaoh and his sons were killed. We have sought the symbols and have unearthed a clue as to where they were hidden. At present the land is divided and the nomarchs vie for the rule. Your quest will help us establish a new dynasty with ties to the beginning.”
Tira looked up. “How can this be done?”
“Though the pharaoh and his sons reside in the afterworld one woman of his house remained alive. She fled the estate and vanished in the desert. Word came that she gave birth to a daughter. That child, now a young woman, can trace her lineage to the first dynasty. The man who weds her will sit on the pharaoh’s chair.”
“Where will I find her?” Tira asked. “How will I know her?”
“She is not your quest. When the time is right she will be revealed.” The priestess leaned forward. “Your quest is to find the hidden symbols. When you leave the temple seek the compound of the nomarch of Mero. Among his scrolls I believe you will find information to aid your search. During the rebellion against the invaders he carried many scrolls from the
When you reach the town near his estate you will meet a warrior of Horu,
the god of the skies. He will join you
in the search.” temple of Toth
Tira frowned. “How will I identify this companion?”
“He will wear an amulet marking him as Horu’s choice.”
Tira closed her eyes. “Can you tell me more about these symbols?”
The priestess rose. She crossed the room and entered an alcove. A short time later she returned with a small scroll. After unrolling the papyrus she showed Tira the pictured objects. Tira studied them. Beneath each of the symbols she saw another picture. There was a cat, an ankh and a hawk.
The priestess rolled the scroll and tied it with a strip of linen. “Take this with you to help in your quest. Other clues will be found.”
Tira had seen pictures of the flail, the crook and the double crown in books. In the images on the small scroll she noticed small differences from the ones she remembered but she thought she would recognize the objects when she found them. She accepted the scroll. “How do I find this nomarch and his compound?”
“You will be shown a road.” The priestess leaned forward. “Be wary. Ramis of Mero is no friend of the goddess. He is an ambitious man and wishes to see his eldest son named pharaoh. Though Mero sits at the gateway to trade with the dark lands Ramis wants more wealth. With his son as pharaoh he will become the power behind the chair. As vizier he will gain power. To achieve his goals he has allied with the priests of Aken Re, the abomination.”
“If he is the enemy why will he allow me into his house?” Was the quest for the symbols a true one? Did the priestess want her to spy on the nomarch and the priests?
The warrior smiled. “When he sees your amulet he will offer his help. He will act like a friend. He plays a double game and wishes a sandal in each camp. He may try to learn what you know. He might decide to give you to the priests. Do not trust him. Learn what you need and depart as soon as you have the knowledge.”
The chief priestess nodded. “You are a woman who will remind him of a past he chooses to ignore. His ancestors were slaves from
Nubia who won
their freedom and through marriage rose to power. You are also unlike the women on his court
for you will not bear to be confined and controlled.”
Tira swallowed. She had known men with the same nature as the nomarch and she hadn’t liked them. “How far must I travel to find this compound?” Another thought arose. She had never ridden a horse. Driving a chariot was beyond her imagination.
“You will be guided to a path along the river. If you walk north you will reach the town where traders come and workers live. Anyone you meet can direct you to the nomarch’s compound. You should be there by dark.”
Tira rose. “I’ll leave now.”
The priestess clasped Tira’s hand. “May the spirit of Bast guide and guard you.”
Tira paused. “When I have these objects should I return here?”
“The goddess Bast and the god Horu will guide you. There are other temples to the goddess.”
The warrior beckoned. Tira followed her down the hall. The older woman slipped into one of the rooms along the hall. She returned and handed Tira a heavy pouch and a bundle she could fasten on her back. “A blanket and five changes of clothes. Coins for the journey.” She strode along the hall.
Tira pushed the small scroll into the bundle and fit her arms through the straps. The warrior opened a door into what Tira believed was the main temple. Drawing a deep breath she entered, halted and stared. A huge mural on the back wall showed the goddess surrounded by a variety of felines. One of the views showed Bast as a warrior, one within a circle of children and another of her offering the crook to a man and a necklace to a woman.
The beauty of the mural held her attention until the warrior touched her arm. “Come.”
They strode along a walk with plinths on either side leading to an open doorway. The highest pair flanked the mural. On each pillar an image of a cat stood. Some were created from preserved skins, some modeled from clay and others carved from wood, semi-precious stones and various rocks. Had there been any temple like this in the
she had studied? She couldn’t remember
reading of one.
One of the statues appeared to be carved from a smoky gray stone. As Tira passed, the cat stretched, yawned and leaped to the ground. Tira knelt so the feline could smell her hand.
The cat nipped the skin between Tira’s thumb and fingers. A shock of awareness swept through her body. Truly she had been chosen by this feline as a companion. As Tira rose the cat rubbed her legs. Tira lifted the feline into her arms.
The warrior laughed. “Bast Ka has chosen to become your spirit guardian. She will go with you.”
A rumbling purr vibrated against her chest. Bast Ka leaped to the ground and padded to the temple entrance where pillars carved into likenesses of cats flanked the rectangular doorway.
Tira followed. Though she would have loved to remain and explore the temple an urgency to be on the way filled her. She would return another time. This was her world until death claimed her.
That thought remained as she trailed Bast Ka from the temple. Occasionally the cat turned and stared at Tira. Beyond the entrance they passed walled enclosures where lions, leopards, cheetahs and a tri-colored breed she had never seen roamed. The huge cats moved toward the low wall. Bast Ka halted and yowled. The large felines retreated.
The warrior waited at the end of the walk. “This is your road.” She pointed to a path of packed earth. “Good fortune to you. May we meet again in this time and place. If not, surely in the afterworld. Remember all we have told you. I leave you now. Good hunting.”
“I’ll do my best.” Tira set off along the path. How much knowledge did she have of this new world? The spoken language was hers. She recognized and seemed to understand the things the priestess and warrior had told her. She knew what most of the foods had been and she had easily figured how to dress.
Wish I had a car. She could think the words but when she tried to utter them she couldn’t. She had been warned that would happen. She could bring nothing from the future of the other world into this one.
The sun moved toward mid-afternoon. To the right she saw the rushing water of the river. The sound of the cataracts seemed distant. On the other bank she saw granite cliffs. Along the edge of the path reeds grew.
Would she encounter crocodiles or other unfriendly creatures? She edged closer to the cliffs. She was along but this wasn’t unusual. She seldom allowed others to cross the barriers she had erected. Her sister had been close but Luci had cared only about drugs and escape. In this time and place Tira regretted her sister’s death and the loss of a life poorly spent. Bast Ka purred. The sound brought comfort.
As she continued to walk, the sun sunk lower in the west. She wondered how far she had walked since leaving the temple. One thing she discovered was how much easier walking on dirt was that the concrete sidewalks she had known.
As the sunset flared in brilliant colors the river turned red and orange. When the light faded the water darkened. Tira smiled. She was almost where she had dreamed of being. Here was a different
Egypt and a
different time but she felt as if she belonged.
A crescent moon edged above the horizon. Stars appeared, more than she’d ever seen. There were no city lights to dull the night sky.
The cliffs on her left were further from the river. Ahead she saw the outline of buildings. Her stomach rumbled. Perhaps there would be a place where she could buy a meal and find somewhere to sleep. Were there restaurants and hotels in this land? She hoped to find someone to ask. Though she was wary of speaking to strangers perhaps the amulet would protect her.Bast Ka jumped from her arms. The cat yowled and took the lead. Tira trotted after the feline. Where were they going and what would they find?