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A Mystery of Ancient Egypt
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Chapter One
(Read or print)

In the womb before the world began, I was a child among other gods and children who were, or may be, or might be. --Normandi Ellis, Awakening Osiris

Year Two in the Reign of Tutankhamen
(1359 B.C.)

Day 16, Fourth Month of Inundation

The sudden noise startled me. Not that there was anything unusual about someone pounding on my door in the night. It was just that my thoughts were so far from the concerns of the living as I sat recording everything I had learned only a few hours before, in the House of Beautification. What did come as a surprise was to find a great hulk of a man standing between two Nubian torchbearers, flames leaping in his eyes like an angry Anubis, come to wreak vengeance on one who dared desecrate his dead. An impatient man, with his fist raised to beat on the door again.

"Fetch the physician, Senakhtenre, and be quick about it," he ordered.

"I am Senakhtenre," I replied, and lifted my lamp to lighten the shadows cast by his beaked nose and heavy brow. I knew then that I had seen him before, for his is a face to remember with that white scar slashing across one bronze cheek to pluck at an unforgiving mouth.

"Then come with me at once. There is no time to waste."

"First I must fetch my bag of medicines."

"Just do not think to delay, sunu, " he warned me, "lest the lady who kneels on the bricks this night be taken by Osiris. Should that come to pass, I can promise, you will end by wishing the light of Amen had never fallen across your door."

I held my tongue and left him standing outside, for it is always a lesser man who needs to sound important simply because he is not. I refilled the packets of herbs I would need to treat a woman who labors in vain, then extinguished all but the lamp in my shrine to Thoth before hurrying back to where he waited.

He set a fast pace, avoiding the streets and alleyways where people stood drinking and talking even after dark, celebrating the news that the young Horus on Earth has taken the Princess Ankhesenamen as his Great Royal Wife. It has been almost three years since the young boy who succeeded the Fallen One of Akhetaten changed his name and returned to the city of Amen, restoring Waset to its rightful place as capital of the empire. And where before there was only the fetid odor of starvation and decay, the city of my birth now bustles with commerce and hope. On the edge of town we took the path to the walled precinct of Amen, where my silent escort did not skirt the god's great temple as I expected, but went between the twin towers of Osiris Amenhotep's massive gateway, then across the courtyard to the path beside the Sacred Lake, without once pausing to pay homage to the god on whose holy ground we trod.

From there we traveled a way known only to the priests, making me wonder what a rich master such as his could want of an ordinary physician like me when he could have any of the exalted priests from the House of Life. But I did not question the self-important jackass who had come for me, knowing he would welcome any chance to put me in my place. When we passed through a gate in the far wall of the temple precinct, the darkness closed around us in earnest, until we came to still another wall and then a watchman's lodge set into it. At a shout from my taciturn companion, the gate swung open to reveal a grand white villa, unlike anything I had seen in my entire twenty-two years. In the torchlight it seemed a shimmering white butterfly with its wings outstretched to hover over a bed of blossoms. As we approached the tall center section I saw that the double wood doors bore the likenesses of the animals representing the seven gods of creation, carved and inlaid with carnelian, ivory, and ebony.

Once inside, the servant led me through a shadowy antechamber, lit only by the many shrines to the family's household gods, then down a long hallway that opened into a vast high-ceilinged chamber. Here the walls were pristine white. So were the six lotus-bud columns supporting the dark wood rafters overhead, where colorful figures of the entire pantheon of gods danced and played in their heavenly garden. A room of unmistakable elegance, but what I found most intriguing was how it bristled with life yet at the same time felt profoundly serene, a contrast that produced harmony rather than conflict or chaos.

I was still trying to uncover the secret of such a paradox when a man rose from the padded sitting shelf on the far side of the room and started toward me. He looked to be in his middle thirties, though his sleeveless white tunic revealed the muscled arms of a man ten years younger. But it was the way he carried himself rather than his house or fine linen and gold armlets that made me know there was far more than some twelve or thirteen years between us.

It wasn't until he passed under the lamp hanging from one of the rafters that I realized his head was clean-shaven. Yet he wore red-leather sandals beneath his long white kilt -- another paradox since it is a rare priest who covers his feet. "You are the physician Senakhtenre? "

I nodded and put my palms together without taking my eyes from his, which were the color of the afternoon sky.

"My lady's midwife and two servingwomen remain with her," he told me without ceremony. "All the others have been sent away." I could hardly credit that such a man would allow any of his women, even the lowliest concubine, to go without the incantations of the priests, and I suppose it showed in my face. "Yes, sunu, your reputation travels ahead of you, even here. But do not stumble over your pride. If you have need of anything or anyone, you must say so. Other than that I ask only that you treat whatever happens here tonight as a vision that comes while you sleep, without substance in the light of Re"

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Twilight Lane, from Avon Books, at The Online Mystery Network,
is produced and published by Newfront Productions, Inc.

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All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form.