The Amulet

7 min


3

Authors note: 

The calendar of ancient Egypt was made up of three seasons of approximately four months each. Their new year (inundation) began in modern day July, when the Nile flooded and brought with its water rich alluvial deposits. Inundation was followed by summer and winter. 

The ancient Egyptians were religious people, worshipping a large number of gods and goddesses in their everyday life, as well as believing in an afterlife. Chief amongst these deities were:

 Amun-Ra, the sun god

Osiris, the god of death  

Nwt (pronounced Nut), goddess of the sky and stars 

It is a well-researched hypothesis that the ancient Egyptians studied the stars in detail and in fact all important constructions such as temples, tombs and pyramids, were aligned with remarkable accuracy to stellar constellations. 

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1300 BC, The Temple of Amun-Ra at Thebes, Egypt.

First month of Inundation, 2nd day

Hapuseneb, the high priest of Amun, stood with his back to the altar, his face lined with the worry and strain of the past seven moons. The other nine priests of the inner sanctum waited for him to speak. 

“We have to face the truth my dear brothers. I have beseeched Amun-Ra to show me a way to save our people but I fear the sins of our ancestors have caught up with us. The end is inevitable. The star of Nwt grows bigger and brighter every night and by my calculations we have less than a hundred and twenty moons before it hits our world.”

Seti, his second in command, spoke up hesitantly, “Should we not tell the common people?”

Hapuseneb sighed. “I have already received permission from the Pharaoh to announce the news on the inundation feast day. I fear this is the last time the people of Egypt will rejoice at the banks of the Nile.” 

He wearily waved them away, “Go my brothers, get some rest.”

First month of Inundation, 3rd day, outskirts of Thebes

Hori clutched the mast of the wooden barge tightly as his oarsmen navigated the last cataract, his eyes searching the far bank for the waiting party. He felt his heart beat faster at the thought of finally being home. Two summers and two winters had passed, it was now inundation and he was home with the flood waters, an auspicious time to arrive. 

“Are we almost there yet Father?”

Hori smiled down at the big-eyed child who sat cross legged by his feet, clutching a wooden crocodile. 

“Almost Ipi. Here let me show you.” Hori hoisted up his son onto his shoulders and pointed out the group of people drawing closer. 

The barge was so close now that Hori could see everyone’s faces clearly, hear the excited chatter. There was his father, sitting pompously on a stool, being fanned by two slaves. His younger twin brothers stood tall, skins taut and shining. Ah Youth! Their wives stood respectfully behind, with a gaggle of children excitedly jumping around in the sand. His uncles and aunts, older now, beaming. They were probably hoping for a share from the loaded barge of goods sailing ahead, thought Hori uncharitably, before chiding himself. Not today. Today was for celebrating, even though every moment without Anuksa was empty and cheerless. 

Anuksa, his beloved wife. How he missed her gay laughter and the comfort of her arms. The scent of her skin still haunted him, every jasmine bush in the garden taunting him with her absence. Hori brushed away the tears impatiently. She was gone. Osiris had decided to call her and he just had to accept it. 

The barge was now almost at the bank and several slaves swam out to help bring it in, shouting out excited greetings. A plank was laid across and Hori disembarked, holding Ipi carefully in his arms. He first greeted his father.

“I greet you respectfully, my father. I hope Amun-Ra has looked kindly upon your health while I have been away. This is your grandson Ipi, bless him as you have blessed all your children.”

Imhotep, labouriously heaved his bulky frame off the stool and awkwardly embraced his first born.

“Welcome home, my dear son. My heart is filled with joy at your return, though it pains me to see you alone. I am happy to tell you that I have commissioned an ornate sarcophagus for your late wife from the best craftsmen in Thebes. It shall be instated in the tomb with all pomp and ceremony, no expense shall be spared.”

Hori respectfully bowed his head and turned to greet the rest of the family, formal words and bows for the older ones and back slapping and embraces from his brothers and cousins. 

It was a happy group of people that made its way back to the house. The courtyard wore a festive air with garlands of poppies and lotus. Pitchers of wine were waiting and the slave girls were already laying out platters heaped high with roasted meats and stewed figs dripping with honey. The children were running around screaming and laughing and Hori was glad to see Ipi was amongst them. 

“He is a happy child, just like you were my dear friend.” 

Hori turned to the voice behind him with a big smile and clutched the hands of his childhood friend, Seti. Tall and solemn, Seti was now a high priest at the temple in Thebes. 

“My dear Seti, my heart is filled with joy to see you! Let us have something to drink and you can tell me what is new in Thebes. I hear the great Sarveswari Pharaoh has ordered a new temple to be built at Luxor and that priests have come all the way from Alexandria to lay the foundations.”

A shadow passed over Seti’s face but he accepted the goblet of wine as they settled down upon the stools.

Seti hesitated before he spoke. “I have something to tell you my dear friend and although I am bound by the high priest not to speak upon this, I fear I must break my silence.”

He added, almost as a whisper to himself, “Oaths matter not anymore.”

Hori’s smile faded at the sadness in his friend’s voice. “What is it Seti. Tell me, let me help you in any way I can.”

“I am afraid there is nothing anyone can do anymore.”

Seti continued painfully, “The astronomers who came from Alexandria brought with them the news that a great fireball of a star is headed towards our land. The head priest has prayed to Amun-ra for seven days and seven nights, but all he is able to tell us is that the Goddess Nwt has been displeased with the barbaric deeds of the Pharaohs and intends to punish every person in Egypt for it. We are doomed my dear Hori, for even the waters of the great Nile will not be able to appease the fires which will engulf our world before winter comes.”

Hori sat without uttering a single word, even after Seti’s voice had trailed off.  Time seemed to stand still between the two friends as the rest of the household went about merrily, oblivious to anything except feasting and drinking.

After what seemed like years, Hori spoke up, his voice sad, yet firm. 

“I am not scared Seti. Indeed, I welcome the idea of dying for it will take me to my beloved wife who awaits me in the next world.  I only think of my child and my heart is overcome with sadness. He is yet a boy, with his life yet to be lived.”

He patted his friend on the shoulder and said with a wan smile, “Come now Seti, if we are to die so soon, let us not waste any more time and eat until we burst open like over ripe figs.

Fourth Month of Inundation, 30th day. 

Hori and Ipi stood at the entrance of the rock chamber which led down to the family tomb, waiting for Seti to arrive. 

His family thought he had been coming here every day to be closer to the ancestors, praying for them to intervene on their behalf to the gods. Hori did not correct them, though with the chaos that had erupted since that fateful day, he did not think anyone would really care. Nobody wanted to be with the dead, they would be joining them soon enough. 

Things were marginally better in his village, but Thebes had sunken into depravity, led by the Pharaoh himself. The people of Egypt had for the most part chosen to fall prey to all the seven sins, believing that if the gods had forsaken them then they too would forsake humanity. The Pharaoh and his nobles were murdering peasants for sport and slaves were being roasted in pits and eaten. Even the great priests had given up and barricaded themselves in the cavernous chambers below the temple. The fire star of Nwt was now a big fire ball in the sky, hurting the eyes if anyone dared to look at it directly. 

Seti arrived, barely panting at the arduous walk. Before he could say anything, Hori quickly pushed him down the stairs, almost stumbling himself as he hurried Ipi down too.  He kept pushing them ahead until they reached the innermost chamber, hewn out of solid rock. The walls were lined with the sarcophagi where his revered ancestors should have been resting, had he not committed the unforgivable act of removing their mummified remains and moving them to the outer chambers.  

The Sarcophagi now held all the food Hori had been hoarding on a daily basis. 

Seti stood open mouthed, unable to say a word. 

“This is not the time for long explanations my dear friend, and please do not be so horrified,” beseeched Hori. 

“You are the only person I can trust to take care of my Ipi if anyone survives. I have prayed and prayed that you both can be safe inside here. Please do not ask anything of me, nor seek to change my mind. I may have lost my mind in doing this, but I have to try. Anuksa and I had lofty dreams of Ipi being a great scribe or a priest like you, and for her sake I have to try to save him.” Hori could now not control his tears. 

Seti nodded quietly. 

Hori bent down to his son, and kissed his forehead. 

“My dear Ipi, be brave, whatever comes”

 Ipi was whimpering, not knowing what to do. Hori pulled him close and placed an amulet in his son’s palm. 

“See this is my wedding amulet, your mother’s and mine. I have cut it into half so that we both may have a piece each. This way your mother and I will always be with you, always protecting you.”

Before Ipi could say anything else, Hori quickly gave him his toy crocodile and turned his back to both of them. He stood still for a moment and walked away.

Seti pulled Ipi close to him, holding him tight, saying a prayer for both of them, but mostly for his friend who had walked out to embrace death. 

————

The wind had picked up and Hori could barely stand upright as he exited the tomb. Lighting and thunder flashed and while the sand swirled around him, the sky above was unbearably bright like a blue fire. Hori, shielding his eyes, started heaving the stone door across the tomb when he caught sight of a slight figure huddling up behind it.  It was a small black slave girl, scared out of her wits, her big eyes brimming with tears. She clutched Hori’s hands as he picked her up and It took an effort to make her let go and shove her inside the chamber.

“Go little one. Go until you reach the room of rock. You will be safe there.”

It was only when he had succeeded in pushing the door shut that Hori realized the amulet was no longer on his wrist. It must have fallen inside as he struggled with the slave girl.

 He sat down, leaning against the tomb door. The blue light grew brighter and soon engulfed him. 

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1922, The valley of Kings, West bank of the Nile (ancient site of Thebes, modern day Luxor)

Delilah brushed off the sweat which was beading up on her forehead and gently blew upon the stone tablet she was working on. The hieroglyphs’ were almost all visible now. 

She stood up and rubbed the back of her neck which was sore from hours of hunching over, and was just about to call it a day when Sir Carnarvon walked into the tent. 

“Ms. Delilah, there is something I need you to look at immediately, a new discovery from tomb K61. Please come with me.”

Delilah hastily pulled on her hat and followed him out. While Howard Carter, the famed discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb was technically her employer, Sir Carnarvon was funding the dig in Egypt and when he said follow, you went without a squeak. And being the only woman archeologist on the team, Delilah knew she had to prove her worth every day. She had only been allowed on the dig because of her Egyptian roots but had slowly proven she was a conscientious worker with a keen eye. It also helped that she could hurry along the diggers by swearing in Arabic. 

They reached the artifact tent, guarded by two burly Arabs, and went in. Delilah was surprised to see two of the senior archeologists hunched over what happened to be a small ornament. After all the gold in King Tut’s tomb, such small objects were hardly worth such attention. 

She moved closer for a better look. It was a fragment of an amulet, tarnished yet unmistakably gold. Delilah accepted the pair of tweezers handed to her and picked up the amulet, pulling the electric lamp closer.  

Her breathe caught in her throat. It was impossible. 

She looked up at Sir Carnarvon, her mouth hanging open. 

“It cannot be, how is this….” She could not speak further. 

Sir Carnarvon simply smiled and said, “I knew the moment I met you that you were meant to be on this expedition. It was destiny. Today I have been proven right.”

Delilah looked back at the amulet in a daze. It was ragged, but discernably round in shape. An etching of the sun and moon was barely visible, cut halfway. 

She slowly pulled up the sleeve of her stained work shirt. On her wrist, hanging on a black thread was a broken amulet, an amulet which had been in her family for hundreds of years. It was always worn by the first child; her grandmother had told her on the day of her father’s burial. It was to protect their family, she had said. 

The amulet on her wrist had an etching of the sun and moon, cut halfway.

***

Photo By: Quill

***

This is an entry for #Countdown, a Beaks and Claws club exclusive event. Check out the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/room8/countdown/

Room8 appreciates your rating the story out of 10 in the comments.

 


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