The door across the room, which only Pharaoh himself could use, opened and Nat-re-Akhte entered the chamber, saying as he crossed the gilded threshold, “No need to genuflect, this isn’t a formal audience.” Today he wore no crown but had the golden uraeus on his brow, held in place by a golden circlet. He carried the blue-and-gold crook and flail of his rank, ritually positioned across his chest.
Tyema stood aside as Nat-re-Akhte walked past her to his chair, which was a golden marvel, depicting intricate scenes of himself with various gods that were far too detailed for her to fully absorb in one glance. The chair rested on intricately carved lion paws, and was set on a slightly raised dais at the head of the gleaming wooden table. The ever present fan bearers took up station behind Pharaoh and Edekh walked to a place at his right hand.
“You may be seated,” Pharaoh said, placing the crook and flail on the table in front of him. “Which day is going to be the most propitious for this ceremony?” He gave Tyema a conspiratorial smile. “My zookeeper tells me the beast has already devoured all the fish in his pond and they’ve had to restock.”
“I’ve cast the omens, Great One, and the day after tomorrow is the ideal date for the new ruler of the bask to be presented to the people of Thebes and installed at our temple,” said the High Priest, displaying no hesitation.
Pharaoh nodded and Edekh made a note. Tyema sat back in her chair as the men discussed the arrangements for the procession. The city officials were also silent for the most part, apparently in the meeting to receive instructions, not to make suggestions. She had no opinion about the parade, the local Sobek priests knew their own city and how to organize things here. Perhaps she would have put the second troupe of dancing girls before the sacred image of Sobek, not after as they were going to do, but Tyema had no feeling it mattered to the Crocodile God, so she only nodded when Pharaoh courteously asked her opinion.
The high priest continued his rundown of the sequence of events. “And when we arrive at the temple, I’ll greet you with the hymn of the seventh hour—”
“After I’ve sung the hymn of the Abundant Nile,” Tyema said. She felt a tightening in her gut, sure now they would be in opposition. He’d rather I played no part in the day’s ceremonies. He probably wishes I’d just sent the crocodile with only old Hotepre for escort. Well, for that matter, so do I, but the Great One wanted it otherwise.
The older priest cleared his throat for a moment, blinking. Clearly he wasn’t used to being interrupted. “No need for you to exert yourself, I’m sure. It’s one of the older, less well known hymns after all. You can sing a brief blessing on the bask at the end of the ceremonies, if you wish. Now then, as I was saying—”
“The Great One Sobek particularly enjoys the ‘Abundant Nile’, since it praises his efforts to keep the life giving waters flowing freely,” Tyema said, cutting across his words, her voice clear. “As he is sending his crocodile to you, personally selected by him, we need to thank him appropriately.”
The men from the Theban temple gawked at her. Color becoming even hotter in his gaunt cheeks, the high priest blew out a breath. “My dear girl, we’re duly conscious of the honor the Great One does us here at Thebes. I merely see no need to slow the tempo of the ceremony with additional music. The crowd will naturally wish to see the crocodile installed in the pond as soon as possible.”
“As High Priestess, it’s my responsibility to conduct the crocodile to your temple and to make the official transfer in proper order,” she said, not at all abashed by his dismissive manner. When it came to anything regarding her duty to Sobek, Tyema felt as if some measure of his strength ran in her veins, and no condescending old man from Thebes could silence her. “I’ll sing ‘Abundant Nile,’ after which you can sing whatever you feel is most appropriate to accept the gift of Sobek and then we’ll proceed to the pond. Whether our audience is one person or ten thousand people, we must honor the Great One Sobek properly.”
“Well,” Pharaoh said, his voice solemn but his eyes twinkling, “The list of songs is decided then.”
“Duly noted,” Edekh assured him as the palace scribe by his side made rapid inscriptions on his tablet. The temple scribe shot a wary look at his superiors, but then scratched some notes as well.
There was an awkward moment of silence. Pharaoh raised his hand and gestured in a lazy circular motion at the priest. “Continue.”
The man opened and closed his mouth several times before swallowing a sip of wine from the clay goblet his under priest handed him. “Um, yes, um, at the pond, we’ll open the crate—”
“The child of Sobek doesn’t travel through Thebes in a crate,” Tyema interrupted.
“You’re not seriously proposing to have a dangerous Nile crocodile carried loose in the procession, are you?” the old man spluttered.
“Sobek has given me the gift of controlling his children of the Nile when circumstances warrant. I’ll ensure the animal remains calm during the parade through the city, docile until he’s installed in the pond,” Tyema said.
“I’ve seen this gift or power in action, exactly as the Lady Tyema indicates,” Pharaoh agreed.
“It would be most exciting,” said one of the younger priests, enthusiasm causing him to speak boldly, earning himself a glare from the High Priest. “Imagine the effect on the crowds, the crocodile on full display, yet posing no danger.”
“Sobek has selected a magnificent animal to rule over your bask,” Tyema said. “The beast has the rare purple underbelly. It can only benefit your temple to have the people of Thebes behold this marvelous creature, not have him hidden away in a crate.”
“Consequences will be on your head if this goes awry, if the beast causes injury,” the old priest said, his eyes flashing in anger. He bit his lip and glanced at Pharaoh, seeming to regret his outburst.
Tyema laid a hand on the collar, touching the emeralds. “Where’s your faith in Sobek, the god we both serve?”
“Any other concerns?” Pharaoh asked the high priest, his tone mild.
“No, Great One. I’m satisfied with the arrangements,” he said, sounding as if he was forcing the words out one by one.
“I’ll need to inspect the pond,” Tyema said, tapping her fingers on the table as she mentally reviewed her list of requirements. “I’m sure all your arrangements are in order, but I can’t bring Sobek’s gift to you with all the pomp and ceremony, only to find some problem in front of Pharaoh and the crowds.”
Now she thought the old priest was going to have a full-on fit, especially as Pharaoh was nodding agreement with her. “Excellent forethought, Lady Tyema,” the ruler said. “Captain Sahure can conduct you and your crocodile keeper to the temple tomorrow morning, leaving the afternoon for any repairs or alterations to be made. On the appointed day, the palace will provide the usual beer, bread and meat for the afternoon feasting after the procession in honor of Sobek. Edekh will see to the distribution.” He rose, signaling the end of the meeting, and swept out of the chamber.
Edekh remained, moving closer to Tyema as the high priest came around the table at her. Shaking a finger in her face, the man talked so fast he was spitting. “There’s nothing wrong with my temple’s pond, girl, and I don’t appreciate your trying to embarrass me in front of Pharaoh by suggesting there is.”
The priest who’d agreed with Tyema before put a restraining hand on his elder’s arm. “I don’t think anyone took her words as carrying intent to insult, sir. The lady is being prudent, cautious with the Great One’s living gift to us.”
“Sobek gave me the responsibility for his crocodile and I don’t take it lightly,” Tyema said. “I can’t.”
“Some little nobody from the country, trying to make a place for herself here, no doubt,” the High Priest blustered on.
“I’ve no desire to live here in Thebes. Running my own temple and managing my own concerns keeps me fully engaged,” Tyema answered, her voice sharp. She leaned toward him. “I speak directly to the god, to learn his will and desire. Surely you do the same?”
Copyright Veronica Scott 2014