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Part One

Samples > Chapter Two

Sowing the Seed


The shadow beyond the western face of Djoser’s step pyramid had shortened during Heroo’s story. He noticed that our heads would soon be exposed to Ra’s heat. I was so fascinated by his story that I forgot to breathe as I listened and wrote at the same time. When Heroo stopped, I drew such a deep breath the others laughed at me. It was nevertheless obvious that all of us were in some way uncomfortable after sitting for so long without any movement. Heroo proposed an hour of leisure after which we will meet at the entrance colonnade for lunch and then descend the steep trench to Djoser’s offering chamber for an afternoon sleep. This chamber was kept open by an order from the great Amenhotep himself, Life, Prosperity and Health, for the use of visiting noblemen to escape the heat of the noonday sun while they planned, supervised or inspected their tombs nearby. I have never seen it before.

Heroo himself lead the procession down the steep incline after lunch. We chanted the long version of the deceased kings’ prayer, called “The Ladder to Heaven:”

“Pay attention, Ra, for Djoser is coming as an indestructible spirit!

He will lay claim to the four pillars of heaven, but fear not!

It is I, your son, who comes to you. It is I, Djoser, who comes to you.
Please continue to cross the sky, united in the darkness

While Seth and Nephthys proclaim to Upper Egypt’s Gods:

“Djoser is coming, an indestructible spirit!

If he wishes you to die, you will die,

If he wishes you to live, you will live!

“You can continue to cross the sky in the land of light

While Osiris and Isis proclaim to the Lower Egyptian Gods:

“Djoser is coming as an indestructible spirit!

If he wishes you to die, you will die,

If he wishes you to live, you will live!”

Pay attention, Nout, for Djoser is coming as an indestructible spirit!

His body lies firmly in the earth and he has left Horus, his son, behind him.

His wings have developed into the plumes of a divine falcon

And he flies as a Ba bird, equipped with his own magic!

“Please open the doors of heaven, you, who are a friend of Thoth

For Djoser is coming, stepping upon each rung of the ladder

While Tefnout trembles with dread and Shu shouts:

“Djoser comes forth and goes to heaven to be among his brethren, the Gods!

Rise up, Djoser, take your head, collect your bones and gather your limbs.

Shake the earth from your flesh and stand at the gates.

Bring your bread that goes not stale, your beer that sours not.

The gatekeeper comes to you and grasps your hand.

He is your father, Geb, who rejoices at your arrival!

He takes you into heaven, kisses you, caresses you,

He sets you before the spirits, who welcome you,

The imperishable stars dance around you.

The hidden ones worship you,

The great ones surround you,

The watchers wait on you.

They thresh barley for you,

They reap emmer wheat for you.

They celebrate your monthly feasts

As well as your half-monthly feasts

Just as Geb has ordered it done for you.

Rise up, Djoser! Climb the ladder to heaven!

You are a living, indestructible spirit!””

The chamber was small and cool, perfect for a small group. Our eyes were dazzled by the thousands of faience-baked rounded tiles on the walls and ceiling. These tiles were of every hue from the lightest turquoise to the deepest sky blue and arranged with such skill and artistry that just being in that chamber made me feel as if I had meditated with lotus-laced wine for hours. Soon after the servants spread the mats, everyone was fast asleep without any effort.

When we woke, Heroo again led the procession out of this magical chamber. We settled on the west face of the step pyramid again, as before. The gentle breeze of the north wind countered the sun’s receding heat on our backs; its light fell on Heroo’s face. I spread my papyrus sheet, prepared the ink and the reed pens and began to write furiously as Heroo continued the story of Horemheb’s conception.

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