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Part One

Coming of Age > Chapter Seven

Approaching the Temple

CHAPTER SEVEN; PART ONE

Crocodiles and sandbars threaten all boats on the Nile River. These are like hyenas and sand dunes on the desert, both constantly in motion. If the hyenas won’t tear the traveler apart, then the sand dunes, having covered last year’s tracks, will get him lost or lead him to quicksand. So it is on the Nile River. Crocodiles may look like lazy beasts, but they move lightning fast upon their prey. They also migrate to new hunting areas. A river pilot must keep track of them. Sand bars also move overnight, carried by river currents. Many boats have floundered when their steering oarsman napped at his station. When the sandbars and the crocodiles moved at the same time without anyone noticing them, entire boat crews have been lost!

Painted baboons greeted the rising sun on the starboard hull of Heroo’s riverboat. It sliced through the Great River, faring south, with a strong north wind. Heroo, Lord of Hanis, was on his way to the Temple of Djehouty. He and Mereeyet sat under the canopy watching the sunrise.

The dog-faced baboon was sacred to Djehouty. But the God of Wisdom had two mascots, two manifestations, and second was the ibis. Accordingly, the port side of the ship’s hull was painted with an ibis keeping record of Horemheb’s studies. When the boy and his Hathor brothers and sisters turned seven, Mereeyet or Heroo took them to the Temple of Djehouty five days every month to study. Each year thereafter, the children attended the temple a few days longer. This year, their thirteenth, they spent all three seasons at the Temple studying full time with their tutors.

They learned to read and write the sacred symbols, to count, to recognize the stars, to know plants and animals and to talk and interact with one another properly. Except for the sacred writing and the night sky, all other instruction took place outside the temple, in motion. The tutor and his children searched the countryside and the desert for plants and animals, learned to count their steps, estimate distances and tell time by the movement of shadows. By moving through the Black Land and the Red Land, the children learned not only in their heads but also with every part of their body.

On the last Full Moon Feast of Summer, Horemheb and the children expected Heroo and Mereeyet to join them and attend the ceremonies. There were two, the ritual of Scribal Initiation, and Horemheb’s induction into the Scribal Priesthood. The Lord and Lady of Hanis had spent three days on their barge traveling to the temple. The Steering Oarsman on the riverboat nodded to the passing fishermen as he held one of the long steering oars in the stern of the boat. Quietly, he chanted the song of the riverbed to himself. While his oarsmen relaxed, he and his assistant were vigilant. They watched the landmarks along the shore and kept an eye on the main current for telltale eddies marking the start of sandbars. The riversong warned them of both. It was without incident that, on the third night, just after dark, the expedition tied up to the Baboon Quay on the west bank of the Great River.

No one on the quay asked who was on board. Heroo’s servants, though friendly with the Medjai and scribes around the Quay, kept to themselves in the darkness and said nothing through the night. But an hour before sunrise the cooking fire sent mouthwatering aromas amongst the waking people on the Quay. The barge-crew overseer personally invited several of the guards, tall, bronzed Medjai from Nubia, and all the scribes to be Lord Heroo’s guests for breakfast.

“What Lord Heroo?” mumbled several, but the wafting aroma convinced them that it didn’t matter. Egypt was full of Heroos, from Pharaoh on down to half the noblemen and hundreds of estate owners who called themselves ‘Lord’ when no one asked questions.

Along with the scent of fresh baked flatbread on hot stones, onions and radishes roasted in savory goose drippings. Everyone talked at once until the dark horizon was ready to put on its daytime mantle. At the moment of twilight the entire land fell silent. A profound sacredness registered itself on everyone’s heart. Silent prayers and pleas flew through the ether to their human or divine destinations. In a few minutes the sky was alight. Before the first voice broke the magic, the guards, scribes and servants heard a harsh splash followed by a softer breaking of the river’s surface. Muffled laughter and giggles from behind one of the barges escaped into the thinning darkness.

“Someone plans to feed the crocodiles a breakfast as good as ours,” the Chief Medjai said with alarm, instantly rose and walked to the edge of the quay. Heroo’s scribe and the Steering Oarsman joined him.

“What crocodiles?” the scribe asked.

“They arrived yesterday afternoon,” replied the guard as he craned his head south listening for the water sounds. He was at least a head taller than the scribe. “They settled on the banks half an iter upstream from here. You didn’t see them?”

“It was dark when we arrived.” The Steering Oarsman also looked south and listened so hard the skin around his eyes and ears moved upwards and his temples became as tight as a drum. “We would have stayed by the next village, but we saw the bright fires around the Baboon Quay and one of the oarsmen who spent many years here thought he could steer us safely to your mooring post.”

“Who is your knowledgeable oarsman?”

“Ameni, son of Nakht the Elder.”

The Chief Medjai’s voice rose in pitch and intensity, “Ameni, the servant of Lady Mereeyet?”

“Yes, that Ameni.”

"Is it the Lady Mereeyet in the river?" Horror shone with its green hues in the Chief Medjai's eyes.

"Yes," the scribe said, but before he finished his nod, the Chief Medjai had leapt back to the circle around the warming fire shouting orders. Men raced to the nearby fishing boats with staves and harpoons shouting “Lady Mereeyet!! Lady Mereeyet!!!” The Chief Medjai mounted the bow of the foremost boat as a small armada skittered by the quay.

“Lady Mereeyet, Lord Heroo, out of the water!” he yelled. “Sutekh’s seed, those sons-of-whores, would taste your private parts and more if your servants’ staves, twice as long as the red-headed Lord’s donkey’s phallus and twice as potent, would not be ready to thrust into their throats the semen of sky-metal piercing and filling their belly like our Lady Isis filled the belly of Sutekh with Heroo’s semen in the First Time!”

Heroo’s Steering Oarsman, who had leapt onto the barge and crossed it, leaned over its side. With one hand holding on to a sturdy rope, he extended the other to his Lady. He calmly translated the eloquent Medjai’s words: “A shoal of crocodiles lurk in the dark waters for their breakfast, My Lady.”

“Djehouty bless this eloquent Medjai,” Heroo broke in with his sonorous baritone, “It’s worth being eaten by a crocodile just to listen to his words. Were a scribe scribbling his patter, I would give him a deben of gold or will him one from the belly of the Ugly One.”

Mereeyet pulled herself up on the well-worn footholds and the lashing ropes that held together the side beams of the barge above water. Her glistening, naked body was well formed and full, hiding her great age. The large breasts swung with her rhythmic steps. She took the oarsman’s hand and nearly pulled him to the deck when she made the final exertion to reach the level cedar boards. The Steering Oarsman immediately stood, reached for a white linen robe and held it up for Mereeyet. She backed into it. With her left arm she pulled the right corner down to her waist, pulled the left corner on top of it and deftly gathered the finely woven linen together in front of her belly. She tied the two corners together through a set of hooks. She might as well have worn nothing, because the finely woven linen exposed everything. Heroo, also naked, landed on the deck by her side.

The fishing boats skimmed silently along the slow moving river’s edge. Everyone looked at Mereeyet as if she had already become a Goddess, come back to them twice as beautiful, twice as wise, and twice as powerful as she had been as High Priestess of Djehouty many years before. The onlookers uttered blessings and protection from their lips, some silently, some in a low murmur, more for themselves than for the safety of this apparition. It was as if such vitality at an age when sickness, if not death, has overcome most other living beings, could overwhelm those who dared to look. Yet, none looked away. If she was a Goddess, she was a Mother-Goddess, her big breasts ready to suckle young lads into their youthful strength, her goodwill ready to succor them until they reached their destiny.

Mereeyet spoke calmly into the silence:

“Good servants of Djehouty, you have once again saved Ast from her ravisher. If Sutekh’s brood lies in wait for their next meal, let them wait. Let the Ugly one tire of waiting, let the slimy tongued one move on empty bellied. Come, join me and Lord Heroo for a hearty breakfast.”

The cook knew his Mistress. His staff was already flattening a second serving of dough and chopping more onions, knowing full well that they would have to feed everyone. Mereeyet sent her servant to ask the Chief Medjai and his entire staff to join her for breakfast. Then she walked over to an ancient barge that stood moored next to her own with several other barges floating in its wake. She spoke to an old scribe sitting under the boat’s canopy:

“Does your mouth still have as many sharp teeth as your words do, Godfather?”

“Ah, little Meree, little Meree, neither, neither, would I but the one or the other, either, either. But Ptah-hotep said everything that needs be said and Amenhotep, LPH, has done everything that needs to be done, so the world can come to an end, Meree, I can unite with the land. I drink my bread nowadays, Meree, my servants mash cooked roots for me. It is only the King’s best beer and wine, Meree, that wash over unruffled where the teeth used to be.”

“You unrepentant joker, Godfather, Djehouty’s baboon who can make words dance! Your teeth may not bite bread, old teacher, but your belly shows no lack of food. Outcast from the God’s temple you were not, I know. You take a retinue of children every seven years and instruct them in his precinct. Even now, they write down every word you say, that when you die, your utterances might continue to speak to others.”

Mereeyet and the old scribe were smiling at each other, nodding in mutual admiration while the younger scribes, indeed wrote their words on fresh sheets of papyri. The old man took Mereeyet’s arm and walked down the gangplank and over to the fire. His children, his scribes followed. Once seated, Amenhotep, Son of Hapu, reached into the folds of his royal linen robe, a gift from Pharaoh, and withdrew a scroll.

“Heroo, my son, you took away my Daughter from me many, many years ago and paid the dowry to the wrong father. But now, by virtue of your own words which you uttered while in the water, you now owe me a deben of gold. Since you are alive, I shall hold on to your steering oar until I am paid my due.” The old royal scribe extended his arm to Heroo. A servant stepped up with an amphora for the purification rite. The nobleman accepted the flow of pure water, cleaned and dried his hands, then took the precious scroll with the sacred writing from the venerable scribe.

Opening the curious knot of the string, Heroo remarked,

“This knot wards off Sutekh, my Lord. We almost had a chance to meet and fight him, to grab his testicles here.”

While Heroo unrolled the scroll, the scribe mumbled just loud enough for the noble couple to hear,

"You barely escaped him with your own testicles, my Son."

Heroo looked at the open papyrus scroll, smiled widely and turned toward his mentor prostrating himself before the living legend.

“I owe you indeed, my Lord, I owe you indeed.”

“You have not done your penance, yet,” the old sage boomed at him with rising lust in his voice. “You must first read the words of the avenging gods and their servants!”

Heroo held up the now flattened scroll to the first rays of the rising sun as another sacred moment silenced the unruly, animated crowd on the quay. A spontaneous chant arose from their collective souls. Those with their hands free extended their open palms towards the sun. The name of the sun god, Ra, now resounded on their lips and resonated from deep within their chests.

“Rrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah……”

With the long breath expended on the potent word, a new breath filled everyone and they repeated their chant a second and a third time.

“Rrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah……”

“Rrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah……”

Having given respectful space to the sacred silence, Heroo read the words of the Chief Medjai as he exhorted him and Mereeyet to leave the waters of the Great River before the crocodiles kept them there forever. Mereeyet then instructed their scribe to bring a deben of gold from shipboard. Heroo presented it to the Sage, who, in turn, handed the precious treasure to the Chief Medjai. The satisfied grin of the tall guard at hearing his own words read back to him turned to amazement. He threw himself on his belly before the Great Royal Scribe, holding the weight of gold in his outstretched hands.

“I will turn this gold into a mighty harpoon, more powerful than Sutekh’s phallus, my Lord, and skewer three crocodiles with my own strong arm. Next time you pass by here, Amenhotep, Son of Hapu, Great Royal Scribe, you will receive an alabaster jar filled with the pure fat of Sutekh’s sons.”

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