Ma-at (Chap 1 & 2)
A Whateley Academy Fan Fiction
edited by Amelia R.
"This is fan fiction for the Whateley Academy series. It may or may not match the timeline, characters, and continuity, but since it's fan fiction, who cares? To see the canon Whateley Stories, check out Sapphire's Place (http://www.sapphireplace.com/stories/whateley.html), The Crystal Hall (http://whateleyacademy.net)or the Big Closet (http://bigclosetr.us/topshelf/taxonomy/term/117)."
Chapter 1: Inbw-hdj
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Southbound road from Cairo to Inbw-hdj (Memphis)
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again"
Dan's voice wasn't anything like what it had been even a decade ago. Too many years digging in the desert, and too many long lectures, had turned his voice to a raspy tenor. Not that he'd ever been that good at carrying a tune; his reputation for singing off-key was legendary among his students and field workers.
It was early, and the car's windows were down, but the heat of the Egyptian day was rising rapidly. Despite that, he still enjoyed driving along, music blaring, while he chimed in with far more enthusiasm than ability; not surprisingly, he frequently found himself driving alone.
The road wound its way along the broad, ancient flood plains that bordered the western bank of the Nile. All this area was familiar to him; it should be, after seventy years of expeditions. He'd even been born near his destination. His parents, archaeologists themselves, had been on a dig in 1910 when he had come into the world. A smile crossed his face as he recalled his parents' skillful redirection of an overly enthusiastic excavator, their young toddler, as he got too close to the face of a newly revealed stele.
He'd grown up in the time between the great world wars, and had the quiet security of the university as the Great Depression sapped the economy. The languages he'd learned from his parents and their colleagues -- French, German, Italian, Latin, Arabic, and Egyptian -- had made light work of many university courses. He had had to take Classical Greek, but his rich background in languages made it a joy instead of a burden. He spent extra hours in the library, or in the museum, improving his ability to render accurate sketches of the relics.
He'd finally graduated in the mid-1930s. Again, he was drawn back to the ancient river that was more a home to him than anywhere else in the world; much of the time since had been spent delving into the ancient secrets buried under millennia of silt.
~Gods, this place has changed,~ he thought. ~And yet so much is the same even after thousands of years.~ He sighed. ~No more digs in my future, though.~ His doctor had warned him that his heart wasn't up to the stress of field work; it was time to stay closer to quality medical care and let younger bodies take up the task of unearthing new treasures. He'd nominally retired twenty-five years before, but his reputation had allowed him to continue to organize and lead expeditions even after his accession to 'Professor Emeritus of Egyptology' status at the university.
~I suppose she's right. I don't have the stamina anymore, and that damned twinge in my chest can't be a good sign.~
The melancholy train of thought damped his singing. He drove along and quietly listened to the music from his CD player.
~At least I've left a legacy behind. My students can carry on even when I retire from the field. Perhaps one of them will be able to confirm my theory on the Old Kingdom language.~ The thought cheered him a little as he negotiated the twisty roadway.
The road had just left another village, and rounded a bluff, when another twinge in his chest turned into crushing pain. His vision blurred, and he fought to stop his car before he crashed into another vehicle. His arms were almost too weak to steer, and it took his remaining strength to mash the brake as the machine came to a gentle stop by bumping up against a tree along the roadside.
There was the annoying blare of a car horn, and his vision went from red to white as the world faded away from Doctor Daniel Edward O'Neill.
He coughed as he stirred. The chaos in his mind began to calm as his brain processed the sounds around him. The birdsongs ringing through the air puzzled him. ~Too many birds, and too little traffic for this road.~
The 'wrongness' he felt in his body was dismissed for the moment. ~That was a heart attack, or a hell of a case of angina.~ Struggling to a sitting position, he blinked his eyes open; the blinking quickly turned to a wide-eyed stare of wonder.
The roadway, the car, the tree -- all were gone.
~Where the hell am I?~
The scene before him was weirdly the same, yet not. The shapes of the bluffs, and the transparency of the air just weren't the same. Even the smells were different; the breeze was fresher than he ever recalled.
He started to get to his feet, but sat back down abruptly when he looked down to see where he was placing his feet.
~What the ...? I have TITS?!~
A few moments exploration of his body verified the initial observation; his body was, to the extent he could verify, entirely female. The academician's brain whirled as it tried to grasp what evidence demanded as a conclusion.
~How could this happen?~ He carefully examined what he could of his body without undressing. His hands, arms, legs, and feet had the look of youth -- late teens or early twenties perhaps? Certainly nowhere near his real ninety-seven years. His skin had been sun-browned and leathery; now it was the classic, dusky color of Egyptians, and was almost too smooth, soft, and perfect. His hair, once close-cropped and gray, was now long, black, and glowing with health.
His clothing was odd, certainly different from the tough, lightweight clothing he'd put on that morning. It was more primitive, and far more coarsely woven.
He thought back to ancient legends and myths -- Tiresias came quickly to mind -- as his logical mind tried to unearth a reasonable explanation. ~I don't recall whacking any snakes of late, twined or otherwise.~ The thought brought a quiet chuckle, though as he listened more carefully, the pitch was too high, and it sounded more like a giggle.
~Okay, I don't know where I am. I appear to be a young woman at the moment. I suppose I should call myself Danielle, now.~ She grimaced at a thought. ~I hate being called Danny, and Dani won't be any better.~
Looking around again, she took in her surroundings. The terrain was almost right to be where the car had come to a stop, except there was no road. The sun was still in about the same place, so either the time was the same, or she'd slept a day through. Her stomach still felt as if she'd eaten recently, though; so she'd assume no time had elapsed.
First, she needed to find out where she was and make her way back to the dig. She should be able to convince Dominic or Gunther of her identity. They'd been on enough digs that one or another of the near-blackmail stories they had on each other should overcome their disbelief.
She had no idea how it had happened, but first thing was to get to her friends and coworkers. Once with them, she could harness their brainpower to perhaps discern what to do next.
The small village, not more than seventy people counting men, women, and squalling brats, watched as the band walked in with the alert, purposeful stride of the soldier, or successful bandit.
The procession stopped in the center of the little cluster of dusty, mud-brick houses and one of the men stepped forward and spoke loudly.
"We are here to claim this town for Iti, your rightful queen; you will gather your tribute for us to take."
Every work of man for as far as she could see was utterly absent. The only hint of habitation was a track in the dirt that traveled in approximately the same line as the road had gone.
~No food. No water, other than the river. I'll drink from the river if I must, but food will be a problem before too many days.~
Partway through her hike, she'd finally gotten too thirsty to wait for a village well. The walk to the river's edge took a few minutes, and she sipped carefully from a shallow pit dug a short distance from the broad waters of the Nile.
Her retreat was rather more rapid, as her motions caught the attention of the biggest crocodile she'd EVER seen.
~Whatever else, my new ticker works fine,~ she thought as the rush of adrenalin faded and her heart slowed down again.
The sun had risen to nearly overhead, and Danielle had finally reached a village, but it was smaller than anything she'd seen for years. Perhaps a dozen houses of typical construction, though the fields were laid out strangely. She walked with little concern, arriving just outside the center of the place in time to hear an impossible declaration in a language that had been dead for five thousand years.
By the time she recovered from the brief moment of shock, it was far too late. Several of the men in the center of the gathering were moving swiftly toward her, even as she turned to run.
"STOP HER! She'll be a perfect addition to the tribute!"
Four of the men took off after the fleeing figure, and returned with a fighting, scratching captive who was, by her tone, cursing in at least two languages the leader didn't know.
He watched the guards struggle to hold her. ~A unique prize it seems -- strong and healthy. We'll have to make sure she isn't too spoiled when she arrives.~ He strode up to her and slammed an open palm across her face; her eyes glazed for a second. "You are my captive, and will be taken as part of this village's tribute to Iti. If you cause too much trouble, you will be killed." He placed a hand on the hilt of what had to be a hammered copper short sword.
Dani's head was ringing from the force of the blow. The men weren't much taller than she, but their grip was unbreakable. She was sure that the leader wouldn't hesitate to do precisely as he said; there was little chance of anyone coming to her aid to stop him, either.
His next command was almost enough to make her lash out anyway.
"Let's make sure the merchandise is worth the taking. Strip her."
They'd finally let her dress after an utterly humiliating examination of her *entire* body. Now she trudged along, bound as a captive, to an unknown destination. The academic's brain, subdued in the crisis, came again to the fore as she observed and cataloged the sights along the way.
~If I was still in the same place, we're headed for Inbw-hdj. The sun was just past noon, and we should make it before nightfall at this pace.~
Despite the heat of the sun, she shivered at the prospect of what might lie ahead. ~It was interesting studying this time, but living in the midst of the cruelties is another thing entirely.~
Coughing from the dust kicked up by the men ahead, Dani racked her brain for any tidbit of information on an ancient queen named Iti.
~If I only knew *when* this is.~
"Dear God! The White Walls! Inbw-hdj! Memphis!"
The procession came to a brief halt as Dani caught sight of their destination and stopped. Her whole life had been spent excavating in the area; bearing the heat, thirst, and hard work as she and her fellows sought to wring clues from the pitiful remnants of the ancient capital.
Now she saw it, whole and untouched by time. The white plaster walls of the palace glowed in the light of the sunset, far more beautiful than any reconstruction could have imagined as it perched on its high hill, above the level of the flooding Nile. The mud brick walls of the city enclosed the citadel, and closed out the huddle of small, mean dwellings that clustered along the slopes of the hill.
A sharp tug on the rope binding her hands pulled her once again to current reality. There was an appraising look on the face of the leader of the 'tax collectors' as she stepped out again. He slowed and walked nearby.
"You know of the city, yet you haven't been here to see it?" he asked in that new, yet familiar tongue.
Dani looked up and saw the genuine curiosity in his eyes. She shook her head. "Where I came from, it was only legend. Stories of a great city with a white walled palace." She looked again as the light faded further and the walls shone redly. "I never thought," she almost whispered, "that I'd ever see it this way." Her eyes had gleamed with a hunger that only exploration would sate.
"Don't get your hopes up; this is likely to be the last time you see this side of the walls."
The statement had left her with a chill in the warm evening air. The rope pulled her into motion again as they walked up toward the city gate. The dirt track ran almost randomly through the clusters of houses as it wound its way toward the walls.
Her black hair swirled as she spun her head from side-to-side, frustrated at her inability to see and record everything at once. The realities of ancient Egyptian life were all around, and she focused so hard at committing it all to memory that the appearance of the palace gate startled her. The earlier exuberance she'd felt vanished in the oppressive reality of the gate. It was smaller than some she'd seen in her travels, but this one was real and signaled the new, grim reality.
The reality of being a piece of property.
The cell was small, dirt floored, and dark. She'd been given a little food and water, but after the long march it hardly sufficed; her stomach complained about the lack of nourishment, and the nagging thirst was almost worse. ~I should be grateful, I suppose, that they think me worth keeping alive. Otherwise I'd have been dead at that village. Tomorrow... we'll see what happens.~
A little straw was all the bedding provided, but her fatigue muted the hunger and thirst, and kept her from feeling the impaling ends as she slipped into sleep.
The sound of the door opening startled her to wakefulness. There wasn't the familiar metal-on-metal rattle of a latch or doorknob; here it was the dull thumping of heavy wood. There was only a little light that snuck its way in past the monstrously thick door as it was shoved open to admit ... a girl? ... a woman?
The events of the previous day pounded back into her mind -- the heart attack, waking as a woman, being captured, and then bound and taken as a captive to a city she'd known only as buried ruins. The replay took only moments, but Dani realized that she was being spoken to.
"I'm sorry; could you repeat what you just said?"
The girl gave Dani an odd look. "You sound a little odd. I said you are to follow me. You will be prepared for presentation to the queen."
The prisoner's pale face evoked a sympathetic smile. "It isn't so bad. Your current dress and," she sniffed distastefully, "state of cleanliness is unsuitable. You will be bathed and then dressed appropriately. We must make haste as we have only just enough time to prepare."
She was given food and water as she was prepared, but had precious little time to feed herself. There were no clocks, and her watch had disappeared with the car and her old life, but the bars of sunlight gave Danielle the idea that perhaps an hour passed as she was bathed, dried, primped, made up, and dressed.
It was embarrassing.
It might just have been normal fare for the team of women, maids, slaves, whatever that was working Dani over, but -- damn it! -- she'd only been a woman for a day, and it was almost too much to bear. Topping it all off, her body and mind were at odds over just how to react to the physical contact. Her mind (his mind?) was priming itself as if she were still male, but somehow her body wasn't reacting. ~At least, I don't *think* it is. Is it? How do I react now?~
The distraction of the internal debate kept her brain busy as the attendants completed their bathing and drying. Dani noticed that she was markedly taller than the tallest of the women. ~Come to think of it, I was as tall as any of the men, yesterday.~
The cosmetics were minimal, and her hair was combed and brushed to the luster of the previous morning. The head attendant was getting antsy as the last wisps of cloth were draped, pretending to cover the relatively tall, slender body beneath.
After a quick visual inspection, Dani found herself led to what she assumed was the throne room in the palace.
It was just as she'd envisioned with the tall, square pillars holding the roof at least three stories up, with lines of windows below the top to let light in and air to circulate.
And the COLORS! Reds, and whites, and -- the archaeologist was muttering a running translation of the hieroglyphics that covered portions of the walls. The attendants gave her looks that she ignored as her head twisted from side to side.
~Dominic would KILL for a picture of these!~
"Are you a scribe? Can you write as well as read?"
The interruption derailed Dani's train of thought, bringing her back to the room where her future, unwilling as it was, would be decided. ~Dominic will never know. Gunter, Abby, ...~ The utter loss of everyone, and everything she cared for swelled for a moment, and her eyes welled with tears. The young woman who'd asked the question put a hand on her arm.
"If you can read and write, you will likely be taken into the queen's service. It isn't so hard, even though we all miss our families." The sympathy in the small woman's face quelled the tears for the moment. "We're housed and fed well, and guarded from those that would abuse us." She cast a significant look at the man who'd led the team that captured Dani.
~Great. I must have caught him on a *good* day.~
The throne room was just off the central courtyard and fairly modest in comparison to its twenty-first century counterparts. For this time, it must seem splendid beyond measure.
At the other end of the room were two chairs on a platform. A woman and a young child occupied the thrones and were dressed in cool, white clothing. The child wore a hat, or crown, that Dani recognized immediately as the combined red and white crowns of upper and lower Egypt. She followed her guide as she continued to examine the child Pharaoh.
~There weren't that many children who were pharaohs during the Old Kingdom. Who's the lady, I wonder? Iti, perhaps?~
Dani stopped when her guide came to a halt at a point perhaps ten meters from the thrones. There was a slight, but perceptible lag between the young woman's prostration and Dani's reluctant emulation.
"Great Pharaoh, I bring you the remainder of the tribute. She is strong, healthy, and inviolate. She also seems to be a scribe."
The child, perhaps five or six years old, kicked his feet in boredom. The woman at his side stood and addressed the newcomer.
"Is this true? Are you able to read and write? What tongues do you know?"
~More languages than *you'll* ever find out about, lady.~ The surge of defiance ebbed quickly. Egyptian royalty held an absolute power of life and death. "I know how to speak this tongue as well as how to write, though this is not the language of my homeland."
"You may rise, and approach the throne."
Dani and her guide stood again and closed the remaining distance to the platform.
"I am the Queen Regent, Iti. I stand as guardian for my son Djer until he reaches an age to take up the full burden of his throne. I also hold the power of judgment in his place, and I will deal harshly with those who try to lie to us. You claim to be literate; if that is true, you should have no problem reading the story on that panel." She pointed toward the same wall Dani had been reading as she walked in.
The young woman smiled as she quickly scanned the hieroglyphics. She knew, now, when she was and who she was standing before. Djer and his mother lived approximately 3016 B.C.E. ~More than five thousand years in my past! No wonder the place is so empty.~
"The story, Your Majesty, is of Horus Narmer and his battle to unite the kingdom." She went on to relate the tale of his finally claiming the two crowns for himself.
"Enough for now." There was a ghost of a smile on the queen's face. "You not only read, but have some skill as a storyteller. We accept this one into our service as complete payment of the tribute. The rest shall be returned to the village that provided her as her skills make her very valuable. What is your name?"
No-one noticed the anger on the face of Snefru, who had led the collection party and siphoned off his 'commission' already.
"My name is Dani, Your Majesty."
"Dani? That is a strange name, and I suspect there is a story there worth hearing. You will follow your guide, Iri. She will begin your instruction in your duties here and show you to your quarters. I will call you again and hear your story."
Iri led the way from the throne room to the women's quarters, where Dani was introduced to the small horde of females who served in the palace.
The next few weeks were a disorienting introduction to a mind-bogglingly primitive society. It was one thing to study ancient societies in the abstract; it was quite another to have to live in the reality of a city with no concept of sanitary sewers. The odors at times were almost unbearable.
The introduction to life as a woman was equally abrupt, but Iri was a patient teacher. Dani's story of being a visitor from a distant land gave her leeway, as her Egyptian peers expected little from the distant, barbarian lands.
It was vaguely disturbing to Dani that the abrupt change in gender was so easy to manage. After ninety-seven years as a man, she had expected it to be hard to adjust, even with the youth she now enjoyed. ~It's as if I found a set of clothing that fits me more perfectly than any I've worn before. Or that my whole life had been twisted out of shape before, and only now has been freed to what it should have been all along.~ The thoughts caused her to shake her head in confusion.
She quickly mastered the palace customs of bathing -- even with the small crowd of other women -- and the small amount of make-up demanded was far less of a challenge to learn than were the protocols of the palace. Not to mention the difficulty in coping with the aggressive arrogance of her original captor, whose name she now knew to be Snefru.
His reputation among the women of the staff made him sought after by the sexually active, and avoided by those put off by his arrogance. He was good in bed, but unfortunately he knew it and wanted everyone else to know, too. Dani quickly picked up on the man's attitude that women had no place running things.
~Dear heaven! I slip five millennia into the past and run into the Taliban!~
Her introduction to the joys of menstruation was mildly crampy, and quite messy, but she'd expected it and accepted it as an unavoidable aspect of her new existence. She'd noticed that most of the other women seemed to have their periods at about the same time, and took care to note how such things were handled.
It had taken only a few days from their first introduction for Iti to call Dani into her private chambers. The atmosphere was much more relaxed, though the queen still had a distinctly reserved air about her. Djer, on the other hand, was a typical child with all the energy and inquisitiveness of his age when unconstrained by the oppressive hands of adults.
"Sit, child," the older looking woman began. "There is some time for you to tell us of yourself. You obviously came from another land, though you have the appearance of any of our subjects other than your height. I have heard you speaking to yourself in a language I have never heard before. Tell us of yourself, your land, and how you came to our kingdom."
The transformed woman took a moment to gather her thoughts. The truth would be incomprehensible to these people, but perhaps she could filter it sufficiently to make it understandable without making it an outright lie.
"Your Majesties, I come from a land far to the west. I was the child of scholars, and became a scholar myself as I grew. My parents studied other lands, Egypt in particular, and I made my choice to study as my parents had. I had come to this land, and was on my way to this city, when I was found by your tax collectors and brought here."
The queen frowned slightly; hospitality to travelers was a given in the kingdom. The trade and news they brought was far more valuable than their utility as slaves. "As a traveler, you have the right to appeal for your release. Your treatment was unjust and against our law."
Dani chewed her lip in thought. "What would happen to the village where I was taken?"
"They would be punished for their actions, and required to provide their just tribute."
"Your majesties, my treatment was none of their doing. It would be unjust in my mind for them to be punished for something they had no part in."
"Then what is your suggestion?"
"I was coming here to study when I was taken prisoner. You have given me a safe place to stay and food to eat." She paused and then plunged ahead, "I came to study this place. I am willing to remain in your service as a scribe for a period of seven years as just compensation for the tribute owed; I ask only that you will permit me time to study this city and palace during that time, so long as my studies do not interfere with the duties you assign."
The Regent focused her intense gaze on the young woman before her. "Dani, we accept your offer. Your service to us will be full payment for that village's tribute."
The child piped up, "Will you tell me stories of your land?"
Iti sighed as mothers had since the dawn of humanity. "Djer, you are Pharaoh. You must remember to act as your responsibilities demand. "
"But you said when we are in here...."
Dani took pity on the exasperated mother. "Your majesties, I would be honored to share stories of my homeland. I am at your command."
Iti's royal demeanor didn't quite slip, though the gratitude in her look was clear. The formality of Dani's speech reminded the child that there was an outsider in their quarters, and that he needed to act almost as formally as in the rest of the palace.
He spoke up again, but far more formally. "We would like to hear a story now. Mother, have refreshment brought that we may not be interrupted."
The women exchanged a smile at the child-king's attempt to act properly.
"If I may begin?" Dani asked. At the nod of the Queen Regent, she began.
"This story is from the very early days of my homeland, and the first man who led us, whose name was George. He is revered even to this day as someone whom we should all want to emulate. He was tall, and strong, and brave in battle. Yet while we respect him for all that, we revere him for his honesty and justice.
“There is a story from his childhood where he took a small axe and cut down a fruit tree that his father prized. His father asked him if he knew who had cut down the prized tree. George replied: ’I cannot tell a lie; I cut down your tree.’"
Djer gasped. "How badly was he punished?"
"He was not punished at all that the stories tell, as George's father prized honesty and justice. He wanted his son to do what was right and just above all, and he was willing to give up a favorite tree to teach him that lesson."
The story was interrupted briefly by one of the servants bringing refreshments. She took the time to translate the next part of the story she wanted to tell. A few sips of her drink refreshed the scholar, and she continued. "Later, after George led my people and freed us from invaders, some of his trusted servants wanted him to take land that was not ours. George faced them with courage, and led them back to the path of right."
"He was not perfect; his anger could be fierce as a fire, and he struggled with it all his life, but his good deeds far outweighed the wrongs he committed. Our people have set aside a day each year to celebrate him and his life."
"He is worshipped as a god?" asked the child, as his mother looked on with a calculating look at the scribe.
"That is not our way. We worship our god, but not our leaders; they would reject people saying that about them."
Another question was forestalled by the young Pharaoh's tutor appearing for the next set of lessons. He reluctantly left their quarters for the next round of agonizing boredom.
"There is much you left unsaid in your tale, Dani." Iti gave the scholar a steady look as she waited for a response.
"Your majesty, you are wise and insightful. There was indeed much that I left out, and some that I told in a way that the Pharaoh would understand. My homeland is so different from here that you would think it another world. We are not perfect, and have our good and bad men, too." The young looking woman gazed across the chasm of time and space separating her from her home. "It is my home, but it is beyond my ability to return. Only the gods can get me home, now." The grief and loss washed over her again as she thought of her friends and students.
Dani had settled in after a surprisingly long and stressful day, but the settling of her status was worth it. She was an indentured servant, but the little village was safe, and there was an end to her servitude in sight.
She curled up on her mat and dropped quickly off to sleep. It seemed only moments, though, before her mind told her she was awake again.
~I must be dreaming; I have to be.~
She was back in her time, in the campus building that held the office she'd been assigned, but alone. She was also still female, or so said the gentle bounce of her breasts.
She found herself walking up to the Dean's office, aware of her actions, yet unable to control them. She had entered, and gasped as she saw what seemed to be her twin sitting at the large desk with a calm smile. The only difference was the crown worn by the woman at the desk that was topped by a huge feather. The crown and feather were unique in Egyptian mythology -- the woman could only be Ma'at.
Dani's mind retrieved the information she'd learned on the goddess. ~Ma'at was the goddess of the physical and moral law of Egypt, of order and truth. She was said to be the wife of Thoth and had eight children with him. The most important of her children was Amon. These eight were the chief gods of Hermopolis and according to the priests there, they created the earth and all that is in it. It was when the world was created and chaos was eliminated that the principles of Ma'at were set in place. The Egyptians believed that if the pharaoh ever failed to live by and maintain ma'at that chaos would return to Egypt and the world and all would be destroyed. Thus, the pharoahs of Egypt saw it as their cosmic role to uphold the principles of Ma'at, and it was due to Ma'at that the pharaohs had the authority to rule the land. She sounded like the keystone to their whole social order.~
Dani bolted awake, her heart slowly calming, as she worried at the meaning of the dream. ~What does Ma'at have to do with all this? And how? It's far too early for her to appear in this society.~
Dani was indulging again. She'd quickly inhaled the noon meal and was studying the glyphs in an alcove off the throne room. They related a story about the Scorpion King that was not-so-subtly different from the patchwork that had survived to Daniel's time. She was perhaps halfway through, and had only half an ear tuned to the main room. The queen was sitting with her counselors, her son by her side, as they considered some situation arising in upper Egypt. The usual quiet murmur of voices set a backdrop for the meeting as men and women bustled in and out on their appointed tasks.
Dani had developed a reputation as an odd one; her proclivity for breaking out into quiet tirades in languages unknown to anyone in the palace as she studied the stories on the walls no longer drew more than an amused smile and head shake from the staff. She finished her reading for the day, and returned to her place in the throne room.
She had become a favorite visitor to the Pharaoh's quarters as well, as the child was fascinated by stories from Dani's strange and wonderful homeland.
Dani had told a story of another man from her land's early days, a 'Davy Crockett', whose skill as a hunter was legend. "He was born far from our cities, and lived his early life where he had to hunt to feed his family. He was such a good hunter, and so precise with his bow, that even the animals knew him. Just his grin was enough to capture his prey. One day he was out hunting, and he used his grin on a small bear in a tree. The bear was so afraid that it climbed out of its tree and gave up."
The image caused Djer to giggle, and Iti smiled at the absurd image.
The scholar's smile dimmed a little as she continued her story. "He was a man of integrity, too. The leader of my land decided to take land that was not ours, and Davy stood up in our capital and told our leader that it was wrong to take what we had said was not ours and break our oath. Davy did not succeed, and lost his place in our government. He returned to his farm, but he retained his integrity despite the price he paid. He retains his honor, even though he is long dead."
Iti, too, was intrigued by the filtered stories of that place. She was puzzled though by even the outlook of the rulers of that strange place as Dani spoke of how her land tried to keep peace between itself and its neighbors.
"So you bind others to you by trade? What do you do when another land sends an army to take what you have?"
"My homeland is large and strong, majesty. There is food to spare, and very few go truly hungry. When we are attacked, all our people rise up to defend our homeland. Our attacker may be a great wild bull, and that bull may be able to defeat a single lion, but my people are like a pride of lions that are able to defeat even the strongest bull."
~Such a strange, strange place it must be,~ thought the baffled queen.
They were continuing their quiet discussion as they waited for the arrival of the next delegation, but the peace of the throne room was broken by the clatter of metal on metal. Cries of anger and pain rang from the palace gate, and one of the guards ran up.
"Your majesties, we are betrayed by Snefru and his men. They have taken the gate."
Iti's face grew stern as her son looked confused. "Have you signaled the city guard?"
"Yes, majesty, but the betrayers are almost through the doorway to this room."
Iti stood and drew herself up to her full height, and Dani, too, stood as she took her position to the woman's left and slightly behind. "Let them in."
The guard's face blanked in shock. "But...."
The Queen Regent stood proudly, but gave the man a kind look. "I am not much of a Regent if I cannot control my own troops. Let them in."
A few minutes later Snefru stood just at the foot of the steps as his troops took position around the perimeter of the room.
Iti gazed with barely veiled contempt on the mutineer. "You have attacked the palace and offered harm to Pharaoh. Explain yourself, Snefru."
The man's face twisted in anger and contempt. "It is bad enough that Pharaoh is ruled by a woman, but now he is being corrupted by the bizarre stories of this pathetic foreigner as well.
"I will raise the Pharaoh, and teach him the ways of men. This foreigner will be put in her proper place again as a slave, and her tongue cut out to keep her from corrupting anyone else. Take those two and put them in the prison!"
Several of his men moved in and grabbed hold of Dani and Iti. Djer leapt to his mother's defense.
"Leave her alone!" The young king charged the nearest man holding his mother.
A guard idly swatted the child away with the back of a hand, sending the crown skittering across the platform until if fell off the edge and clattered on the floor. As the youngster fell, Dani felt something swelling within her. Her vision faded for a moment, then snapped back with inhuman clarity as she heard her voice speak.
"You have raised your hand to Pharaoh, Snefru! You have chosen to bring disorder and injustice to the land."
A glow rose from the foreigner's body, lighting the throne room with brilliance like the noonday sun. The guards found themselves flying across the room, coming to an abrupt halt as they collided with pillar or wall.
Snefru paled at the glowing form, unable to move or speak as she swung her gaze in his direction.
"If you want disorder, then disorder you shall have! I am Ma'at, the goddess of Truth, Justice, Balance, and Order!" She waved an arm, and the attacker's weapons fell to dust. "Disorder robs you of your weapons, and your helpers." The fearful groaning of the men who'd attacked turned for a moment to shrieks; the shrieks had hardly died out before they were replaced by the mindless babble of infants.
"Your rightful Pharaoh appointed Iti as Regent." Dani's body seemed to float to floor level as she approached the frozen mutineer. "You rejected his decision, and show contempt for the order that preserves this land and the world. You find women worthy only as servants and slaves; you will learn their real worth."
She waved her hand, and a brilliant flash concealed the spot where the man had stood. When it faded, and the vision of those around recovered, where Snefru had been there now stood a young woman just on the cusp of puberty.
"You will remember what you were as you learn the true worth of the women you scorned so casually. And you shall receive far more mercy and kindness than you were prepared to mete out."
The glow faded, and Dani felt her body come back under her control again. She heard the Queen Regent command Snefru be taken to the servant's quarters, and the infants be cared for, as the young woman's consciousness faded.
As her mind flickered, she felt a calm, comforting presence tell her, "Be at peace, daughter. Rest now and I will explain when you awake."
Dani struggled a little as she awoke. She found she was lying on a mat that was somewhat softer than the one she occupied in the servant's quarters. Iri was sitting on the edge of the mattress.
"Shhh, my friend. You are in the Queen's quarters, and have been since you collapsed. How do you feel?"
"Tired, Iri, but fine other than that." She swung her legs off the edge of the mattress and stood, though unsteadily. "Are the Queen and Pharaoh safe? What about the men who attacked?"
Iri reached out a hand to brace her taller friend. "The queen and her son are well, and waiting for you to join them in the outer chamber. The attackers have been dispersed to families, other than Snefru. She is being trained in her new duties. Come, Pharaoh is waiting for you."
The two made their way out to where the Queen Regent and her son waited. Iti stood and waved her son to join her.
"Dani, you saved our throne and our lives. The debt we owe cannot be repaid. You are freed from your service obligation, and whatever we have is yours."
The tall scholar shook her head. "It wasn't me. Whatever happened, I was just a spectator."
As suddenly as before, Dani felt that strange pressure build. Those in the room saw a muted glow this time, but there seemed to be a crown with a large ostrich feather on her head.
"Well said, child," Dani heard her voice speak again. "Queen Regent, and Pharaoh Djer, I am Ma'at, and this woman is my chosen avatar. She was sent to teach you the way of justice and right, to set your feet on the path of Ma'at. She has other duties to perform for me, but you will do well to remember the stories she told. Teach them to your children, that your line may prosper.
"Dani is to go to my temple, and she will be told what her path is to be there."
The king spoke up, quietly and with fear in his voice. "Goddess, may she come back and share more stories?"
The glow faded, and Dani was again in control. She smiled at the young man and his mother, though the sadness in her eyes was clear. "I must be at the temple this evening, but Ma'at says that until the time comes for me to leave the city, I may return here with more stories when I have no other responsibilities. For now, with your permission, I should go and gather my belongings."
The remainder of the day blurred a little, as Ma'at's reappearance seemed to have sapped the scholar's energy, though not as much as before. Dani had felt a sense of loss as she collected her meager belongings from the servant's quarters; despite the situation, the women had accepted her and made her feel welcome. She wept gently as she embraced Iri, who was also crying at Dani's impending departure. The woman had started out as Dani's guide and had become a dear friend.
The little king struggled to contain his emotions, too, as Dani took her formal leave in the throne room. The child had been far less dignified earlier; he had thrown his arms around the tall woman and hugged her as strongly as his size allowed.
His mother was far more controlled, but her voice carried the full weight of her gratitude. "Dani, you are welcome here as often as your duties to your Goddess permit. It would be good to hear more of your stories."
Dani stepped back from the platform, bowing in respect rather than prostrating herself.
"I will return when I am able, your majesties. I still have much of the palace to study, and would be happy to share more stories of my home."
She grinned a little. "In fact, I have a short story to tell you right now. Years ago, my homeland was attacked, and the general in a distant part of our country was leading his troops in defense of the area. Our enemy was too strong at the time and our leader wanted the general to leave, so he could build a new army and lead it. He protested, not wanting to abandon his men, but at last he obeyed.
"As he prepared to leave, he turned to the men he was leaving and told them 'I shall return.' After he left, his men fought hard before they were defeated. The general kept his promise, though it took over three years before he led his new army to final victory. He did return, as he'd promised.
"As long as I'm still in the city, and as long as I'm welcome and have time, I shall return with my stories for you."
She walked along the disorderly streets of the city, guided only by an internal sense of where to go. Despite the opportunity to study the living society she'd worked to unearth, her thoughts were locked in more personal channels -- Why was she chosen? Why was she even a she? What now? And would she ever have a chance to go home?
A quiet voice inside her head spoke up as she continued on her way. ~Be at peace, daughter. I am here to answer some of your questions. You don't need to speak aloud, as I hear your thoughts.~
Ma'at's voice continued, ~I will start by answering your first two questions, as they are related. When you died from your heart attack, I chose you to serve as my avatar. You know, and love, my children who live here, and you had great knowledge of, and respect for, their ancient culture.
~You look as you do because your soul is that of a woman. You were blessed that your heart was strong enough, and your family kind enough, to allow you to thrive despite your soul and body being mismatched. There are many others far less fortunate.~
A picture flashed in Dani's mind of a tall, pale, red haired woman. ~Is that...?~
~Yes, daughter. Were your soul and body to match, that would be how you would look. That appearance would keep you from being able to fit in this place at this time. My children are not yet ready to accept strangers, and they need to accept you as one of their own.~
~That explains why I feel so comfortable in my body, I suppose.~ She stopped for a moment and looked around the dirty, dusty street. ~What now? What am I supposed to do as your avatar?~
There was a hint of a chuckle in the mental voice. ~Patience, Dani. First, go to my temple; the high priestess is waiting for you. Take the time to rest, and tomorrow you will find out more of your path.~
Chapter 2: Inbw-hdj at the Temple
The building was quite small in comparison to the palace, or the main temple of Ptah, and the outside walls were plain and unadorned. She walked out of the bright sunlight into the shaded interior, and had to wait for her eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. The entry was a short corridor, perhaps five meters long, with carvings on either side. As her eyes adjusted, Dani's progress stopped. The carvings were the prototypes of the forty-two principles of Ma'at:
1. Thou shalt not kill, nor bid anyone kill.
2. Thou shalt not commit adultery or rape.
3. Thou shalt not avenge thyself nor burn with rage.
4. Thou shalt not cause terror.
5. Thou shalt not assault anyone nor cause anyone pain.
6. Thou shalt not cause misery.
7. Thou shalt not do any harm to man or to animals.
8. Thou shalt not cause the shedding of tears.
9. Thou shalt not wrong the people nor bear them any evil intent.
10. Thou shalt not steal nor take that which does not belong to you.
11. Thou shalt not take more than thy fair share of food.
12. Thou shalt not damage the crops, the fields, or the trees.
13. Thou shalt not deprive anyone of what is rightfully theirs.
14. Thou shalt not bear false witness, nor support false allegations.
15. Thou shalt not lie, nor speak falsely to the hurt of another.
16. Thou shalt not use fiery words nor stir up any strife.
17. Thou shalt not speak or act deceitfully to the hurt of another.
18. Thou shalt not speak scornfully against others.
19. Thou shalt not eavesdrop.
20. Thou shalt not ignore the truth or words of righteousness.
21. Thou shalt not judge anyone hastily or harshly.
22. Thou shalt not disrespect sacred places.
23. Thou shalt cause no wrong to be done to any workers or prisoners.
24. Thou shalt not be angry without good reason.
25. Thou shalt not hinder the flow of running water.
26. Thou shalt not waste the running water.
27. Thou shalt not pollute the water or the land.
28. Thou shalt not take the gods' names in vain.
29. Thou shalt not despise nor anger the gods.
30. Thou shalt not steal from the gods.
31. Thou shalt not give excessive offerings nor less than what is due.
32. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.
33. Thou shalt not steal from nor disrespect the dead.
34. Thou shalt remember and observe the appointed holy days.
35. Thou shalt not hold back the offerings due the gods.
36. Thou shalt not interfere with sacred rites.
37. Thou shalt not slaughter with evil intent any sacred animals.
38. Thou shalt not act with guile or insolence.
39. Thou shalt not be unduly proud nor act with arrogance.
40. Thou shalt not magnify your condition beyond what is appropriate.
41. Thou shalt do no less than your daily obligations require.
42. Thou shalt obey the law and commit no treason.
The academician's mind pulled a later version of the list from the collection of facts stored from her long studies, and wondered how much the ancient proscriptions had propagated across the historical landscape. ~Golden truths in a plain wrapping. I wonder if these are some of the roots of the Hebrew's Ten Commandments?~
She stood, frozen in deep thought, until a voice from further inside the temple interrupted.
"Welcome to the temple, Meri-Ma'at. Your place is prepared for you."
~Beloved of Ma'at?~ Dani shivered at the implication.
The voice of the goddess echoed in her mind, accompanied by a warm feeling of comfort. ~How can you doubt the truth of the name, dear one?~
~It just seems ... arrogant and presumptuous to me. The only records I've seen have been of Pharaohs being called that.~
~And how many of them do you think were chosen as my avatar?~ Ma'at's chuckle interrupted the thought. ~Being humble is good, if not taken to an extreme, and I know your upbringing makes you even more hesitant about those claiming divine appointments. I chose you, though; I hope you will learn to trust me and my judgment.~
~I'm getting there, My Lady. Between my physical changes, the move so far into my past, and trying to understand what being your avatar means, it's an awful lot to adjust to.~
~I know, and you'll have the time you need to make those adjustments. You'll find that my High Priestess, Nebka, can be a help to you; she knows some of your past existence, so you can generally speak freely to her. Now you'd best pay attention; she's waiting for you to respond.~
Dani turned her attention outside herself again and found a small, older woman standing at the end of the corridor into the temple. The light from the outside revealed an amused smile -- almost a grin -- on the weathered face as the Priestess spoke again.
"My name is Nebka. Were you lost in thought, or were you praying to the Goddess?"
The new arrival returned a wry smile. "Call me Dani, Nebka. I suppose you could call it praying; I'm just trying to understand all that's going on. I have a hard time dealing with the idea of being her avatar."
The older woman nodded. "I understand at least a little of what you're going through. I didn't quite believe I wasn't imagining her call either. Come, now, you need food and rest; there will be time to talk later."
They made their way into the temple and stopped in a small room that was simply furnished, though more comfortably than the shared space for the women in the palace. A cushioned mattress, small desk, and a stool gave it the feel of a medieval monk's quarters. Dani found herself mildly conflicted; the prospect of sleeping alone for the first time in months was less attractive than expected.
~I'll miss them, especially Iri.~
The taller woman's reverie was interrupted again. "I know it isn't quite what you were used to before coming here, but these are the same size quarters as mine. We have common meals morning and evening, and I'll show you the baths on the way to this evening's meal. The other priestesses are anxious to see you."
"Now I know how Maureen O'Hara felt," Dani muttered under her breath, drawing a quizzical look from the priestess. "Sorry, I'm ...."
"... talking about someone from your past. The Goddess told me that you are a scholar whom she brought here from far down the river of time. She also said you have spent much of your life studying this land, but warned me that you would say things I wouldn't understand from time to time." She shook her head, as if to clear it. "If you leave your belongings here, I'll take you to the common room, where we have our meals."
Dani's stomach growled. "That sounds good to me." She dropped her bag on the floor by the mattress and followed Nebka out.
If she weren't so worn, Dani would have laughed. She walked into the common room and a ripple of silence propagated through as the priestesses and priests noticed her arrival. Her hostess guided her to a table, where a young woman brought the two their meals -- a simple dish of bread, vegetables, and a little fish. The cups were filled with a drink that proved to be beer. Dani made a point to thank the youngster, but only caused her to blush in embarrassment and skitter away.
"That reaction is never easy to accept; they stop treating you as a person," Nebka sighed.
"Well known people in my homeland have the same problem." She paused to consume some of her meal. "Perhaps I can at least help the situation here." She stood, drawing a puzzled look from her companion and the other occupants of the room.
Dani spent quite a while walking along the tables, pausing to introduce herself to each person in the room. Some were too shy to respond, other than a quiet statement of their name; others shook off the awe and began to converse freely. From time-to-time Dani glanced toward her seat, where the High Priestess watched the confusion spread with the avatar's movements; she grinned at the bewilderment left behind.
At last, her rounds through the room complete, Dani resumed her seat. "I hope that will break the ice," she commented as she took a sip from her cup. She noticed the blank look on Nebka's face. "Problem?"
The next morning was a little better; there were a few of the women in the baths who were willing to speak up after the episode in the common room. The young woman who served her morning meal was a bit less shy than the youngster of the previous evening, though she still insisted on calling Dani, 'Meri-Ma'at'.
As they walked to their first task for the day, Nebka gently chided the newcomer. "You may as well give up, Dani. There are men and women here whom I've known all my life, and ever since I was called to be High Priestess, I cannot get them to call me by my name anymore."
Dani smirked a little. "I suspect you acted the same way, too."
"I didn't say I expected anything else. I'm more amused by your persistence in trying to change how we act toward you."
"I can't really explain without you knowing a lot more about my homeland, and I'm not sure how much I should say about that. We respect the responsibilities people have, but most of us still treat those in authority as people."
"Isn't that disrespectful to the gods who put them in their place?"
Dani hesitated, and felt a gentle discouragement from Ma'at. "I fear that I can't say more, Nebka; the goddess can't let me say something that will disturb the flow of time. I think we need to change the topic of conversation; what do you have planned for this morning?"
"Since you're new to the temple, you should learn our ceremonies. It wouldn't be right for the Goddess' chosen to be unprepared. I have a room set aside where we can work on the songs undisturbed."
A look of horror grew on Dani's face. "Songs?!"
Before noon, the look of horror had replicated itself on the High Priestess. She shook her head in frustration.
"I'm sorry, Dani, but your singing is ..." She trailed off, unable to produce an adequate word.
"Horrible? An affront to man and the gods? Bad enough to chase starving rats from a granary?"
"Forgive me, Meri-Ma'at, but yes."
Dani turned to that inner presence again. ~My Lady? She's right that I should know this, but she's also right that my singing will be a problem. The songs are important to the ceremonies, and I just don't have that talent.~
There was amusement wound around the thought that responded. ~So what would you have me do? I could make you quite the singer, if you wish.~
Dani paused for a long time as she considered the offer. ~Ma'at, before I can answer that I need to know something. Are you ever going to let me go home again?~
There was the sensation of a warm embrace as the voice replied. ~Yes, daughter; you know, now, how much you were needed here. You will be needed just as much in your own time and place. For now, I thought you'd want to stay here for a little while and learn what you can.~
~I could stay here for a lifetime and study, you surely know that. If I'm to return to my home time, I suspect my singing will help prove my identity.~ The avatar made a wry face at the thought, which provoked a questioning look from the priestess.
~I will at least help with what's needed for the ceremonies. Nebka is right, it would be inappropriate for my avatar to be unprepared, or not participate.~
For a moment, Dani felt a strange twisting in her mind.
"I think I'm ready to try again, Nebka."
The remainder of the practice session went flawlessly, and there was a sense of intense relief on the part of both women as the last notes of Dani's part faded.
~Just don't expect the same outcome with Willie Nelson, Dani. Even miracles have limits.~
The unexpected comment started Dani giggling.
Nebka looked on for a moment before asking what the giggles were about. Shortly after getting her answer, Dani's giggles had turned to full-throated laughter from both women.
The afternoon was far less exciting. Dani quickly committed each ceremony to memory, and by mid-afternoon she was wandering the temple, examining the engravings on the walls and studying the activities of the residents. There were no surprises, but when she got to the kitchen area, she stopped and just watched for a bit. The cooks were using the available tools, only some of which were even metal, and taking little care to keep the tools, or even the food, free of dirt.
~How many people are sick because of the germs they don't even know about? Or even the dirt they don't care about? My Lady....~
The young woman could feel the nod of the goddess. ~You should speak to the High Priestess first, but you may share your thought. In fact, you may also share it with the palace as well.~
The scampering form of the avatar drew the wondering gaze of the temple attendants. She careened around a corner and skidded to a stop outside the High Priestess' quarters. A chuckle from inside revealed the lack of stealth in her approach.
"Come in, Meri-Ma'at."
Dani walked in, mildly glaring at the priestess as the business in progress was completed. She kept her silence until the room was vacated. "You didn't have to laugh! And how did you know it was me?"
"If you insist on being so undignified, you must expect laughter, and you're the only person in the temple who would be carrying on that way. Now, what brought you here in such a hurry?" The older looking woman's eyes danced with a mirth that was barely contained.
Dani quickly sketched out what she'd seen in the kitchen. At that point, she paused; the people of this time and place had no way to understand bacteria. There was a long silence, unbroken by the priestess, as the scholar tried to bridge five thousand years of medical knowledge. "I can't tell all I know, but if your kitchen staff will listen to me, and change how they do their work just a little, you won't lose quite so many people to sickness."
She proceeded to outline the addition of a formal cleansing, using soap for the cooks, and boiled water to clean the dishes and utensils, to the existing preparations and blessings when the cooks were preparing a meal.
"How will that help?" came the expected question. "What difference could using boiled water make, or washing your hands?"
"I'm sorry, Nebka, the best I can do to explain is that there are ... demons, fester demons in the dirt on your hands and in your clothing, even if they seem clean. Soap can clean them off your hands, but water needs to be boiled to get the demons out."
Dani chewed on her lower lip for a moment as she racked her memory for a suitable illustration. "Nebka, demons are invisible, right?"
"Most of them are, yes."
"And the demons that cause illness work mostly at night, correct? They are demons of the dark."
Nebka's eyes held the first glimmerings of understanding. "And the dirt makes shadows for the demons to use?"
The scholar smiled and nodded. "Exactly! And when the dirt gets into the food, the demons can spread their poisons and make people sick. They can even hide in the little bits of dirt in water; boiling the water puts the warmth of the sun -- the power of Ra -- into the water to chase the demons out. If you use some bay leaves in the water as it is boiled, the water will have a special odor that tells you it's been properly treated and blessed.
"Even when we bathe ourselves, it washes away the dirt and shadow and makes us acceptable in the sight of Ra and Ma'at.”
"The demons also, sometimes, cause wounds to fester the same way they get into the food and make it spoil. Wounds should also be cleaned with water that has been boiled. My idea won't solve all the problems, but it will help. Is there anyone else who seems to have problems at times with sickness?"
The silence stretched out before the priestess spoke again. "The midwives sometimes have a new mother sicken after birth, and sometimes the children take ill and die, too."
The scholar nodded. "If they make some of the same kind of changes, I think we can also help them. The midwives will need to use the boiled water for cleaning themselves, the mothers, and the newborns. They should also boil the cloths they use to get the fester demons out."
"If the Goddess has allowed you tell us of this, I will make sure we begin to tell everyone in the city. I'll speak to the cooks in the temple, and the midwives." Nebka shook her head. "I still don't fully understand though."
The tall woman sighed in frustration. There was so much she could do, and so many lives that could be saved. ~I can't. Saying the wrong thing could screw up five millennia of history.~
She sat heavily on a stool, burdened by the weight of the silence she had to keep.
Dani's morning had gone smoothly, despite being called on to participate in the morning's ceremonies in the temple. It was rather like being in a play, or a musical; she was grateful that she'd been enabled to perform her part in the rituals. She and some of her researchers had often wondered how the ancient Egyptians had lived out their religious lives; now she had had the chance to even be a part of it all! She was almost beside herself with excitement. ~Some of what we thought was close; most of it wasn't very near the mark, though.~
The remainder of the day was hers, at least until the sunset ceremony, and she took advantage of the time to return to the palace. The morning audience time was just about over, and she should have a chance to talk with Iti and her advisers without too long a wait.
She finally arrived at the gate where Semerkhet, the guard captain who'd warned of the attack, was again stationed. He bowed low as Dani approached.
Dani returned the bow, though not as deeply. "Thank you, Captain. Are their majesties receiving visitors this morning?"
"Our orders, Lady, are to welcome you whenever you arrive. Whoever is the guard captain is to accompany you to their majesties, if that is your wish."
With a nod from the avatar, the two walked up the ramp and into the palace. They walked in silence, Semerkhet just to her right, until they reached the throne room. He bowed again, and left to return to his post. Iri was in the room, attending to Iti and her son this morning.
As he retreated, Dani noticed Iri's wistful focus on the young man. The scholar grinned as her friend suddenly felt Dani's gaze and blushed. Iti noticed the grin, followed the looks from each woman, and nodded to herself as she discerned the root cause of the reaction. Refocusing on the new arrival, the Regent extended her welcome.
"Good morning, Lady Dani. What brings you here this morning?"
"Good morning, your majesties." Dani bowed respectfully to the Pharaoh and his mother. The child grinned and wriggled as he suppressed the urge to smother the new arrival in a hug. "I have," she glanced quickly at Iri, "a couple of items I would like to talk about. One will involve your cooks and midwives; if you could have the proper people contacted, I'd be grateful."
"And the other item?"
"The other matter is a bit more personal. If you'd be willing to deal with it in private, I'd be grateful for that as well."
"We were just finished with the morning's meetings; if it is convenient, why not join us for our noon refreshments in our quarters. The chief cook and the senior midwife can join us there."
"What is convenient for you will be fine with me, Majesty."
The Regent turned to Iri. "Iri, please find the chief cook and the senior midwife, and bring them to our quarters."
The young woman shot a suspicious look at her friend as she departed.
The mother, son, and their guest retired to the royal quarters for privacy after Iri's departure. Once within the privacy of their rooms, the king's demeanor changed from dignified king to delighted child. There was a brief hug exchanged between Dani and the boy.
"Are you here to tell more stories?" he asked hopefully.
"We'll see; I have important business first." She grinned at his pout.
"What have you in mind for my servant and guard captain?" Iti asked as she doffed her headgear. "I've seen that calculating look often enough to recognize it."
"Your majesty is insightful, as always. I consider Iri a dear friend, and she seems quite taken with your young captain. He seems to be very intent on his job, though."
Taking her seat, and waving her guest to another, the queen nodded. "She has had an eye on him for a while, and until he was promoted, it seemed he returned her interest. Of late, he's taken his new position so seriously that he's been neglectful of that relationship."
"Would you object to interceding a little?"
The two co-conspirators began their planning while they waited for the return of their messenger and target of interest.
"I don't understand," the old cook complained, "why should I boil the water, then put the laurel leaves in?"
"And why would anyone want to boil cloth?" the midwife chimed in.
Iri had returned with the cook, the senior palace midwife, and their most experienced aides, shortly after Dani had briefed Iti on what she intended to cover with the new arrivals and their initial matchmaking discussions were complete.
"The leaves have a soothing odor. If you have that smell from the water, you'll know the proper ritual has been followed and the water carries Ma'at's blessing." Dani desperately struggled to give the old woman -- though she was probably forty years younger than the time-traveler's real age -- something more than just 'Because I said so' to hold on to.
She turned to the midwives. "The leaves also will ease a little of the pain the mothers have, so I think that will be appreciated. The only way to properly gain Ma'at's blessing for the cloth is to boil it."
The faces of the women were thoughtful, as they considered the new ritual. They spoke quietly among themselves for a time, finally deciding that the strange, new ritual should do no harm -- though not without some muttering about new-fangled ideas. The idea of refusing guidance from the gods was unthinkable in the end. They left promising to begin instruction immediately, though there was a grudging look still on the eldest woman's face as they departed.
Dani relaxed as they left the room. "I was beginning to wonder if they'd ever say yes."
"They take their responsibility seriously; two lives are in the midwives’ hands every time they are called. I can understand their caution." The queen looked as grave as the midwives.
"I have one other item that I'd appreciate your help on, if you're willing." Dani shook off the somber mood of the room, realizing that the topic she was raising would dim the mood again.
Iti smiled in her direction. "You know that whatever we can do is yours for the asking. What do you need?"
"The goddess has said that I will eventually be returning to my homeland. If you have a stone carver available, I have a task that I'd like done."
"What sort of carving do you have in mind?"
Dani looked around the room, and pointed to an intricately carved panel of glyphs. "Something like that panel, though the carvings will be different from anything done before."
Iti looked at the panel and nodded. "I think I understand what you want, but you'll need an engraver, not just a stone carver." She thought quietly for a moment. "If you need something that special, I'll have to call the guild master."
The thoughts of just what she had in mind left a feral grin on Dani's face.
"Why do I have a feeling that what you have in mind bodes ill for the recipient?" Iti was intrigued by the look on her friend's face.
Dani's grin didn't waver. "What I have in mind isn't going to hurt anyone. It's more a way to prove I have been here, and to play a joke on some people I know. I'll need your help putting it in a safe place once it's done, though."
The regent's face hinted at her bewilderment as she agreed to help however she could.
The avatar was feeling smug as she walked back to the temple. The meetings had gone better than she'd expected, though it was almost certain that there would be resistance from some of the more traditional women. She and the regent were also deep into planning how to shake Semerkhet out of his absurd focus on his job; if all worked out as planned, they'd remind him that there were other parts of life that were equally important.
She was startled by the mildly admonishing tone in Ma'at's thought. ~Don't you feel at least a little hypocritical?~
The archaeologist stopped dead, and her reply was eloquent. ~Huh?~
~You're criticizing Semerkhet. I find that hypocritical under the circumstances. How many children do you have?~
Dani's temper flared. ~You know perfectly well that I don't have any children! I never got married.~
The inner voice changed from admonishing to stern. ~I am the Goddess of Truth, child, and the first step is being truthful with yourself. Remember Agnes?~
The memories of Daniel's time as a doctoral candidate surged to the fore, as Dani recalled a young woman who, looking back, had done everything possible to encourage the young man to become more than a casual friend. He'd missed, or ignored, those hints as he focused on his studies. She'd finally drifted off, and he'd never even noticed.
She found herself wiping tears away as she resumed her walk toward the temple. ~Oh Goddess; I did the same thing. My students were my substitute children, but ... I see what you mean. Forgive me?~
The goddess' voice resumed its warm encouragement. ~Of course, daughter. You just needed a reminder that there's more to life than your work. That includes your status as my avatar, too, by the way. You have a second chance, child; don't deprive yourself again.~
Dani nodded absently. She stopped suddenly as the implications of that statement hit home. ~You mean ....~
~ALL of it, dear.~
~Eeep!~ As Dan, an intimate relationship and taking time to have a family had one meaning. She ran a hand over her stomach. Now, though, it would mean potentially having a child herself. ~I don't quite know how I feel about that. For once my years as a man are at war with my comfort level as a woman.~
Time flowed by like the river below the city as Dani settled into the routines of the temple, and pursued her own projects. She continued to study the carvings inside the temple, and could be found in quiet corners silently watching the daily life of the inhabitants. The priests and priestesses had settled into a slightly less formal relationship with the Goddess' chosen avatar, but only the High Priestess came close to being the friend that she craved.
Only at the palace could she find anyone who would treat her as just a person; the royal family continued to make time for her, and Dani made a point to spin tales of a magical land where people flew on the magic mats with the wings of huge, silver birds, far away across mountains and deserts.
The engravers were less enthused by her visits; they had received careful sketches of exactly what Dani wanted engraved, and the utter nonsense had caused them to appeal to the Pharaoh. Dani watched with an amused look.
"Pharaoh, these names and words are meaningless! Who ever heard of anyone with such a strange name as Ozymandias? And then there are the other designs that no-one but she understands."
The young man on the throne nodded somberly. "At times the avatar's actions are hard to understand, but she saved our mother, and is Ma'at's chosen. She asked for this as a favor. We owe our kingdom to her, and if she wants stone tablets carved with nonsense, then we will give her what she asks and more." The youngster smiled at the guild master as the older man shook his head in despair. "Take heart, somehow I think someone will be gifted with a very unique story because of your work."
Dani spoke up as Djer finished. "I appreciate the difficulty you face, guild master. Please understand that the symbols and inscriptions I've drawn are trying to put my homeland's tongue into Egyptian glyphs. Our ways of writing are so different that putting my language in your glyphs makes it look like nonsense. The people for whom the tablets are being made will understand the message they bear."
Another moon waxed and waned before the tablets were complete; Djer and Iti sent word to their friend that a formal presentation had been scheduled for the next day. There was quite the crowd as the results of the work were presented to Dani, and the scholar was careful to maintain an air of formality as she accepted the gift from the still bewildered workmen.
After the presentation had been completed, and the room was cleared, Dani stood in the throne room and looked carefully around. Her actions, peculiar even for her, finally broke the patience of the Pharaoh.
"Dani? What are you looking for?"
She broke off her survey and turned her attention to the boy. She was smiling, but there was a sorrow in her eyes that was plain.
"Now that I have the tablets," she explained, "I need to put them where only the proper people will find them at the proper time. I was looking around to make sure I knew where that should be."
"Why does it make you so sad?"
"I'm just thinking, Pharaoh, of when I return to my homeland. I'll miss you, and all my friends here." ~And you'll all be dust and legend. Pictures on the wall, or names in a list.~ She took one last look around the room. ~There. I know we found that corner on Dominic's last dig; now if I can get Iti's permission to bury the tablets at that location, I'll know where to look.~
She joined Djer as they made their way to the royal quarters; there were a couple of backup locations she could use, but the sooner the work started, the sooner she could move on to 'Operation Yente'. Dani giggled as she recalled Iti's reaction to that latest example of peculiar behavior.
"I'm not sure which worries me more: not understanding you at all, at times, or the idea of actually knowing what you're talking about."
"Alright, Dani; what are you up to?" Iri put her whole body into the most intimidating glare she could manage.
"What do you mean? What makes you think I'm up to anything?" ~Please forgive the shading of the truth, My Lady.~
~Just don't make a habit of it, Dani. Even white lies can be a problem. I'd prefer it if you just refuse to answer.~
"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about!"
Dani smiled and took her irate friend into a warm hug. The smaller woman stiffened, then relaxed as she returned the embrace.
"I'm sorry, Iri. You're as dear as a sister to me, but I can't say anything. You'll just have to wait. I know you're in love with your young captain, and that he's so fixed on his new position that he's ignoring you."
"It's only gotten worse since Snefru led his mutiny. He feels as if he failed."
"I'm not surprised. He needs to realize that there is more to really living than just his job. I'm working with Her Majesty, and Ma'at has added her blessing to my idea." Dani winced. "The Goddess reminded me that I had made the same error as Semerkhet; I feel even more obligated to do something, now."
"You can't tell me anything?"
"I want you to be able to truthfully say you had nothing to do with it. I don't know if it will work, but we want to try." Dani's serious expression cracked as a nearly irresistible pout appeared. "And pouting won't help either."
"Meri-Ma'at? The palace sent a messenger to ask for you to come right away." Huni, one of the newest temple attendants, stood nervously at the door to Dani's quarters, where the scholar sat at the desk examining a small statue.
"Huni, right?" The young woman nodded, as Dani placed the item back on the desk. "Let's go. The palace wouldn't have sent a runner if it weren't important."
A short time later she found herself in the middle of a near-screaming match between several of the cooks.
"It's a total waste of time! It does nothing but enrich the pockets of the herb sellers and the woodcutters." Dani walked into view of the antagonists. "And there she is! Have you come to get your share of the profits?"
The leader of the vocal opposition, Inyotef, was a somewhat shorter woman than the avatar, but heavy-set and muscular. She spun around and stalked in the direction of the newcomer. "I'll teach you to interfere in my kitchen!"
~Put out your hand, child, and feel yourself holding her back.~ The calm voice guided the heavily outnumbered scholar. She did as she was instructed, and felt a gentle surge flow through her arm as the voice continued. ~Now guide the power around her like the fingers of your hand. Just focus on control; I'll give you the strength you need.~
Inyotef's expression changed almost instantly from rage to fear. The tales of the avatar had circulated, but too often tales had proven to be lies. As she felt the soft restraint of the goddess' power, Inyotef felt her heart quail as she realized the truth of the stories she'd heard.
Dani, her face placid, walked toward the now-panicking woman. Everyone else in the kitchen fell back. "I heard you almost as soon as I walked into the palace. I understand that you don't like the changes I've suggested." She paused. "Do you have a son or daughter?"
Inyotef nodded carefully, still aware of the gossamer threads of power woven around her. "A ... a son, Lady."
"And what would you do to keep him healthy and strong? Would you boil some water if it meant he wouldn't get sick and die? I would; some of the people in this palace are as dear to me as family. If the Goddess permitted, I'd do more to keep them safe and well; this is the least I can do, and," she pulled the threads more tightly around her prisoner, "I won't let anyone put them back in danger." She abruptly released her captive.
Inyotef's eyes were wide with terror as the bindings, unyielding as stone, tightened. Suddenly, like the snuffing of a candle, the bindings holding her were gone. She fell to her knees and, sobbing, she begged for forgiveness from the avatar and her goddess.
Dani reached down and took the hands of the kneeling, sobbing woman, pulling her to her feet. She noted the rest of the staff, while not kneeling, were in a submissive pose; their hands were clasped before them and their heads were bowed.
"Listen to me, all of you." The heads of each person in the room came up. "I'm not really surprised that some of you are upset, but so long as I'm in the city you may come to me. I will listen, though I may not change my mind. As far as the new cleansing rituals, I will listen to ideas for a better way; the cleansing must be done though. Now then, since you've decided to cause disorder within the palace, I must pronounce judgment."
Several faces went pale immediately, and their fear only increased as an evil-looking smile came to the tall woman's face. Dani felt a quiet giggle from the voice in her mind. Looking around to make sure Iri was not present, she held her finger to her lips. The staff's fear turned to shock at her next statement.
"Your penalty is to help me get Iri and Semerkhet back together. I have an idea about how, and you're ALL going to help."
Nervous titters came from the women as they swore themselves to secrecy.
That evening, as Dani lay in her quarters, Ma'at spoke up. ~Dani, you need training in how to properly use your new abilities. It will soon be time, I think, for you to begin your return to your own time and place. There is a school for mutants, called Whateley Academy, which has the facilities and teachers you'll need.~
~I'm a mutant?~
~No, but they're the only organization that can be trusted with your training at the moment. I could teach you, but the governments in your time will be less likely to interfere in our affairs if you have trained at a recognized school once you're back in your own time. Whateley could use an expert in historical mythology, too, with their collection of students.~
~Seventy-five years in college and you want me to teach TEENAGERS?~
~Among other things you will do in the future. I have work for you when you get home.~
The tablets had been buried in the location that was Dani's first choice; the stone masons managed to remove several floor pavers and make a sufficiently large space under a non-load-bearing wall to slide the carvings into place. As the last stone was secured into place, sealing the messages to the future into their resting place, Dani sent a silent plea to Ma'at to put her blessing on the project, and protect them till the proper time.
She stood, and looked at Iti. "I think it's almost time for me to leave. You said you wanted me to have a banquet with you, the Pharaoh, and a few others?"
"I think three days from today will work best for our preparations, if that is suitable."
"As it pleases your majesties."
After Dani's departure, Iti called Iri into the throne room. "Iri, I want to have a last meal with Dani as the guest of honor. Does she have a favorite food?"
"Yes, Majesty. She said my stew was her favorite."
"Very good; make preparations for three days from now. You are her friend, and you will join us at the table as well. And remember, child, we have a surprise planned. Trust us."
The kitchen staff poured their talents into the preparations, selecting the very best of the available ingredients for each dish. Iri found herself a central figure as she was handed only the best of those select goods for her stew. Inyotef, with the memory of Dani's power and mercy still fresh in her mind, was given the key role on the day of the banquet; she had a fresh bay leaf set aside and would be the one to serve the young guard captain.
The hall was filled with laughter, as the royal wine cellars supplied copious quantities of their contents for the revelers. The various dishes were loudly praised, and Iri's stew had held its place of honor. Semerkhet had found the bay leaf in his stew and set it aside, noting he was the only one nearby that had one.
At the end of the main meal, Dani stood to begin the time for storytelling as the wine cups were topped off. "First, I want to give my thanks to Iri. Her stew has always been one of my favorite dishes, and she has done a magnificent job this evening. You have truly outdone yourself. Now, who was the lucky man who found the bay leaf in his portion of the stew? I may tell you that in other lands the bay leaf, also known as laurel, is used as a symbol of honor for heroes and champions. In my land, there is a very old and honored tradition that he who gets the bay leaf in his stew wins the privilege of kissing the cook."
Iri paled at the words, and gave a fearful look around the table.
Semerkhet stood silently, cocked an eyebrow at the slight smirk on the avatar's face, which was mirrored on the Queen Regent, and walked to Iri's place. The young woman trembled as she stood, but accepted the kiss without audible protest. He said a few quiet words in her ear as they parted. The two resumed their places, joined in a glare at the matchmakers at the head table.
Dani accepted the glare without visible reaction as she continued. "I have a story I'd like to share this evening; it is short, and a bit sad, but appropriate.
"A wise man had spent years with a group of his followers, living with them and teaching them each day. The time finally came for him to leave, and he sat down with them all in a final meal. As they ended their time together, he asked them, whenever they had that meal, to let it be a reminder of the years they'd spent together and the lessons he'd taught."
"I would ask that, when you have some of this stew, you'd remember me. Wherever the Goddess leads me from here, whenever I share this stew with new friends, I will share the stories of my friends here."
She nodded to Iti. "I'll tell the story about the Queen Regent who had the courage to stand proud against rebels." She turned to Djer. "I'll also tell a story about a young Pharaoh, who thirsted for knowledge and had the heart to try to protect his mother."
She looked further down the tables at Nebka. "I have a story about a Priestess and teacher, who was gracious enough to bear teaching someone who just could *not* sing." The High Priestess smiled and raised her cup.
"And last, but not least in my heart, a special story about a guide who became as dear as a sister to me." She nodded to Iri.
The remainder of the meal was slightly more subdued, though the stories continued from various people, some related to Dani and her antics. The evening wore on, and the guests left in small waves, until only Dani's closest friends, Iti, Djer, Nebka, Iri, and Semerkhet, were left.
As they made their way to the royal quarters, Dani took the captain aside. "Semerkhet, I know you're a little upset with what we did at the banquet. I have a special story that you need to hear, though. In my homeland, there was a man who was a scholar. He loved his studies so much that he ignored a young woman who did all she could to show her love for him. She finally gave up, and left. He lived for almost one hundred years, and was renowned for his work, but he never had a wife, a family, or children. He died alone, and there was no one to carry on with his family name." She paused for emphasis. "There is more to life than your work, young man. Your duty as a man is to more than just the Pharaoh and Queen Iti. Don't make the same mistake as that scholar."
~It is time for you to say goodbye, child. Your journey needs to continue; you have other stops to make on your road home.~
Dani opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by Nebka. "It's time for you to leave us?" At the avatar's bewildered look, she continued. "I saw your face. You became still as the Goddess spoke to you, then sad."
"I'm afraid so. I don't know where the next step will take me, but it's time to take it."
There were hugs, and tears, as Dani said her goodbyes. She noticed with some pleasure that Semerkhet was standing with an arm around Iri's waist. At her questioning look, he blushed and nodded. She whispered as she said her farewell to him, "Take good care of my sister, and enjoy all the blessings that love will bring."
Iti drew a small cloth from a corner and unfolded it as Dani approached. "I had a dream, some time ago, that I needed to have a special gift made for you." She held out a lightweight, gold chain that bore a pendant in the shape of a single ostrich feather.
~Lady? May I accept this and take it with me?~ Dani's mind called out as her hand reached for the glittering necklace.
~It was made for you as a remembrance. Wherever you go, you may take it with you.~
Dani's fingers fumbled a little as she straightened the chain and slipped it over her head. It took her another moment to gather her hair and get it out of the way, so the jewelry rested properly around her neck.
She looked down for a moment at the pendant, which was so finely made that it could have been plucked from a tiny, golden ostrich.
"I ... I'm overwhelmed," she stammered. "Thank you, Your Majesties, for such a wonderful gift. Ma'at says I may take it with me, and I'll keep it as a most precious treasure."
She stepped back from the royal pair, and fought to keep her tears at bay. "I guess this is it, then. I'll always love and remember you all, and I pray the Goddess will bless you as richly as you've blessed me."
There was a bright flash, and she was gone.
The candle-lit room vanished, and Dani felt an instant of disorientation. Suddenly, she was outdoors again, with the warm sun on her back. She was on a ridge, facing down a long slope that ended in what appeared to be a large bay, flanked on her left by mountains; much closer to her, perhaps half a mile away down the slope, was a small city.