The Pharaoh’s Official
by R D Larson
|Table of Contents|
part 1 appears
in this issue.
“Trying to kill you? But you’ve just met him. He’s the new official just sent here, yes? I’m sure he has no interest in you.”
“But he does, many years ago, twenty years ago – we were lovers, and we had a son. Now, he wants his son in a position close to him. Chandre is a good boy and has no idea what will befall him in the hands of Akhet.”
“You’re the mother of his son? The one he wants to name as Chief Recording Scribe?” Hept-ra pulled her into the darker regions of the building. She knew the soldiers had marked the door designating the house to be uninhabitable. No one would come in.
“Akhet asked me to come to him believing I had poisoned him. He was ill all afternoon, lying on his bed and moaning, with great dry heaves. I told him I would send a runner for a physician but he forbade me, saying he could not risk such a scandal. He was afraid I would confess to the physician and all would find out that Chandre was his son and not the Vizier’s,” Behpt said, beginning to weep. "I came here to hide."
A huge rat ran across the doorway. Hept-ra shuddered. It was her poisonous nutmeats that nearly killed Akhet. Not Behpt’s! What had she almost done?
“I will take you to my house. Then, I will seek out Akhet and try to talk him out of such nonsense. Many of our foods now come from foreign lands and he could have eaten something spoiled.” Hept-ra said, trying to think what to do next.
“No, no. You must not let him find me. He will surely kill me; he is enraged, crazy with anger.” Behpt pulled back when Hept-ra tried to lead her toward the door.
“Come, you will be safe with me,” Hept-ra said.
“I think not,” a voice said suddenly from the doorway of the house as Akhet stood before them.
“Amusing, Behpt, that you should seek shelter in my secret house with my new singer who is so pleasant to view,” Akhet gripped the Vizier’s wife by her arm. “Hept-ra, this woman tried to send me to the Land of Dead.”
He laughed raucously as he shook Behpt violently. Her head struck the mud-brick wall. Behpt cried out and then kept silent, watching her once-lover to see what other horrors awaited her.
“Behpt, I cannot risk any investigation of my actions or of my son. I have no other sons to nurture, and you must be silenced forever," he crossed to the younger woman." My beautiful Hept-ra, we will kill her, and hide the body. No one must know but you and I.” Akhet said, his fingers sliding along her chin and upper chest. “Then one day soon, you will be with me, in every sense of the word.”
“Never, never. I love Mket; I will never conjoin with you. I poisoned you for I know what evil intent you plan!”
“Oh, I don’t think so, I already know you well. You see, Hept-ra my dear, long before the moment I saw you today, I fell in love with you. Secretly I have heard your singing and know of your goodness. You are destined to be my lover throughout all eternity. I know you love me even if you don’t believe it yourself,” said Akhet putting his hand under her chin. In the darkness his eyes glittered. “Behpt, go to the back rooms of this house NOW.”
With a sudden explosive cry of terror Behpt darted through the open door way and disappeared into the darkening night.
“Phutt! I will deal with the mother of my son later.” Akhet, his sinewy fingers propelled her toward the back of the dark house. “Come here, Hept-ra.”
Stumbling, she gasped. As his hands slid along her arms, Hept-ra stiffened in,* anger. Suddenly she pushed Akhet as hard as she could. As though he had expected it, Akhet deflected her movement with his shoulder, throwing her to the floor.
Akhet pulled Hept-ra up and shoved her cruelly toward through an open doorway into a room. It had no torch burning. It was so dark not even bit of starlight shone in. Hept-ra stumbled, twisting her ankle painfully. She hobbled into the room. When Akhet slammed the massive wood door Hept-ra realized that she would never be able to move it herself. She was trapped.
Where had Akhet gone? Would he capture Behpt again and drag her into this empty house, this empty room? Hept-ra felt along the wall, trying to calm her hammering heart.
After circling the room Hept-ra dropped to the floor doubting that she would get out. Surely, Akhet would come back and bring her food and water. Sooner or later. And it would be far worse then cowering here in the dark, Hept-ra said to herself. She could hear the scurrying of small animals and insects. She recoiled thinking of snakes and scorpions. Almost paralyzed Hept-ra shrunk against the wall.
Suddenly there was a scraping sound and door to the room opened. Akhet stood there, an oil torch in his hand.
“Follow me, Hept-ra and quickly. I have great glories to share with you.” His eyes glowed with internal schemes and his hawk-like face hung over her. The flame burnished his skin and threw ragged shadows on the wall. A snake furtively slid away to the corner.
He pulled her up to him, and held her gently in his arms. Disguising fear Hept-ra kept herself from flinching. Her freedom would have its price, she knew, if only she could convince him she was more valuable alive. “I wish to see such glories. Is it your preparation, Akhet, for the Afterlife?”
“Yes, it is my beautiful sarcophagus and tomb. I will show you.”
“How have you done this? Built this? I thought you had only just come to Giza?”
“No, no. For years I have been coming here to work on my tomb and to pay the finest workers and craftsmen to build my mastaba. More importantly, I have kept watch as my son, under the roof of the Vizier, grew to manhood. Now Chandre will record my importance and his own in the history of this great Pyramid. My true son will honor me in spite of his dog of a mother.”
“What of Behpt? What have you done to her?”
“Silence! She is gone from us, in the same way that miserable excuse for a man that calls you his wife. Gone to a desolate life of wandering alone without tools.” Akhet leaned close to Hept-ra’s face. His breath was hot on her cheek. Yet she shivered from a chill. “I will be yours and you will be mine. Soul mates. Forever.”
“Please, Akhet, this is new to me. I need time to know my feelings,*” Hept-ra said, making her face pleasant, keeping her gagging in control by swallowing and breathing deeply by flaring her nostrils. “I understand what you are saying.”
“Here, down this corridor, I will hold the torch high for you to precede me.” Akhet said. Hept-ra entered a small door at the back of the mud-brick house. She could see the corridor disappearing into blackness beyond the torch.
“I have spent the last few years preparing my chamber, it is in all readiness for you until I join you.” Akhet whispered, followed her closely. The torch gave off an acrid scent as they walked quickly down the labyrinth. The walls were closer, only as wide as a person.
The corridor seemed to go down at a rapid rate. Then suddenly it turned sharply and came to an end. Hept-ra turned. The smile on Akhet’s face petrified her and she pressed her hands against the granite walls. “We have gone a long way underground.” Hept-ra said. Then she knew. “We are in the temple near the side of the Great Pyramid.”
“Yes, I have my burial tomb even nearer to Chamber of the Queen. And you shall await me there in your own death. I have spent years building and decorating my sarcophagus, in secret from all but a few. Now, you are part of the inner circle of truth.”
“Is it the end?” Hept-ra said, looking up and seeing no way to continue. She didn’t know if she meant the end of the corridor or the end of her life. Her throat shuttered, choking her.
“I’ve perfected the secret entry with the unique help from craftsmen that are no longer among the living. See?” Akhet pressed a small depression in the sidewall. A stone about two feet square grated softly aside. Looking at it, Hept-ra could see the stone was not a stone at all, but a carved wood plank, colored to match exactly the wall. “It’s too small,” Hept-ra said, feeling very weak. The close walls and now this tiny black opening. Did he expect her to willingly die? He pointed at the square black opening.
She knelt down, her gown pulling at her hips. In a swift move Akhet yanked away her linen garment. The coolness of the granite chilled her, raising little bumps along her skin.
“Please continue. It’s not that difficult, my love.” Akhet leaned down, thrusting in the torch before him. In panic and in darkness Hept-ra jerked and backed up. She stood and whirled, running back down the hall. She could hear shouted curses from Akhet echoing. He already came after her. Running, she lurched into a small widening. She panted, afraid to stop.
As she pressed against the wall it shifted. A door! Hept-ra pushed through the darkness, blind. Akhet’s voice seemed to catch her.
She could see nothing but her hearing became acute. Other voices pressed into her mind. Akhet neared the room. Flaring light caught her from behind. Akhet! She began to run again harder and faster.
Headlong, sightless in the thick darkness, Hept-ra ran up the ascending ramp her hand trailing along the passage to guide her. . A faint light flickered and she knew Akhet was closer and gaining on her. She ran, breathless, her heart straining, afraid she would trip and he would have her again.
Up and up the corridor seemed to go. Akhet’s voice, her ragged breathing and her pounding heart seemed to envelope her. Other voices, perhaps dead workers, left in the Pyramid cried out to her. Running.
Akhet’s torch threw her shadow in front of her. She saw a door at the top of the rise and ran faster. Suddenly, the granite floor dropped away beneath her. Screaming she fell down into darkness.
For an endless second she pitched downward. Hitting the rough wall painfully, she grasped a small rock out cropping and held tight.
Akhet let out a horrible scream as he too fell into the shaft. His body, his twisted, horrified face lit by the burning torch streaked past her as she dangled at the edge of the precipice. She watched as the torch hit the floor below and went out.
Gasping in terror, she closed her eyes, trying to calm her heart. After a split second in the darkness, she felt with her toes for anything to help support her. Nothing. With one arm she reached as far as she could. Nothing. Her arms ached. As her fingers grew numb, she felt her body slipping.
Terrified, plummeting downward Hept-ra knew her death was near. Mket’s face filled her mind in that last instant.
Striking the bottom she landed atop Akhet. He screamed out, writhing and groaning a prayer as he died beneath her.
Pain burned her body. She must have broken something; she would die here alone in the Great Pyramid with Akhet just as he had wanted. She shook violently from shock and pain. She felt and smelled blood. Hers? The pain in her legs was unbearable.
Weeping, Hept-ra lay on the cooling body of the Egyptian Official. Another moment of life and then a long death in the Afterlife, she thought.
Again she heard the calls of the workmen Akhet had murdered. Barely conscious she dimly heard her own name. What? What? Hept-ra didn’t know if she spoke or not.
Suddenly, above her the flash of torches sparked. Mket called down to her. “I will come down on a rope, you are safe now, Hept-ra.”
Hept-ra looked up in disbelief as the soldiers of the Pharaoh lowered Mket. He wrapped her with a warm blanket, looking at her wounds with the torch he’d brought with him down into the shaft.
“I think you have broken your legs, Hept-ra, but the physicians can set those. You will live to be a very old lady.” Mket told her as she was being tied to a wood slab. “They will raise you out of the shaft – don’t worry, I will hold you steady tied to my rope as well. The Vizier’s wife, Bepht, has confessed to him about Akhet and Chandre. His concern for your safety has resulted in dispatch of the royal troops. You have stopped Akhet yourself and are a hero. We are living still, my wife.”
Mket knelt to kiss Hept-ra’s tear-streaked cheek tenderly.
Copyright © 2005 by R D Larson