When the Gods Fell (Part 2/5)
Sekhet is a favorite maidservant in the household of Pharaoh’s chief wife, Lady Nefertari. She is in the center of court tulmultion when a strange man named Moses, a former prince of Egypt who was presumed dead, has resurfaced with a staff in his hand and his brother by his side. He demands that Pharaoh let the Israelites, a slave nation in Egypt, go into the wilderness to worship their God for three days. When Pharaoh refuses, Moses prays to his mysterious God who turns the Nile to blood and makes the land swarming with frogs. Annoyed with the plagues, Pharaoh tells Moses he will allow the Israelites to worship in the wilderness if Moses will lift the plague.
To read part one in full, click this link
I curled up in a corner and covered my mouth with my hands, squeezing my eyes shut.
“Sekhet, are you alright?” Amunet knelt down next to me. “News has just come. Pharaoh refuses to let the Hebrews go.”
“Okay,” I whispered though my fingers.
“Will you be alright?”
“The smell is making me lightheaded,” I said. “Nothing more.”
“Oh,” she sighed.
“Sekhet,” a gentle voice called my name.
“Yes?” I looked up.
Anitza stood over me with a goblet cupped in her hands.
“You look a little pale, I brought this for you.”
She passed the wine down to me and I took a sip.
“Thank you, Anitza,” I said. It was a simple thanks, but she smiled. “Can you believe Moses’ gall?” I asked. “Saying he will lift the curse.”
“Well, he did,” Anitza said. “Just not as we would like.”
I lifted myself from the ground to pull a curtain away for a look outside.
Smoke columns were rising up everywhere bringing with them the stench of burning flesh.
“At least the frogs are gone,” said Amunet who was not particularly fond of frogs.
“What God does Moses worship that would kill every single frog in Egypt and yet not suffer the wrath of Heka?” I asked with a shudder.
“Yahweh,” Anitza answered quietly.
“I have never heard of that God,” Amunet declared.
“How would you know of Moses’ God, Anitza?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
“Curiosity,” she said quickly. “Isn’t everyone curious of Moses and his brother?”
I gazed at her a long time.
“Some more than most,” I said.
I reached up to scratch my scalp suddenly. My head had been itching since I’d risen this morning and I wasn’t quite sure if I should be concerned.
“Anitza,” Lady Nefertari’s voice rang out through the chambers, saving the servant girl from my suspicion.
“I thought for sure you would always be Lady Nefertari’s favorite,” Amunet said, her lips pursing together, “but Anitza is rising very quickly in our Mistress’s favor.”
I glanced quickly over to where Anitza was sitting at Nefertari’s knee. A little bubble of jealousy spread up inside of me, and I reached up to scratch my head again.
“I wonder why the lady is so taken with her,” I mused aloud. “She is certainly not Egyptian. In fact, I have never seen anyone like her before.”
“There are many foreigners in Egypt, Sekhet,” Amunet reminded. “It could not be that much of a mystery.”
“I didn’t mean her looks,” I sighed. “It’s her.”
Amunet gave a confused look.
“I don’t know,” I said. “She’s just… different.”
I reached up to my head again.
“Stop that, Sekhet,” Amunet said.
“What?” I asked, continuing to scratch my head.
“You are making me itch with all your scratching,” she shuddered.
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I’ve been bothered since this morning.”
Reaching up, I pulled off the beaded headdress I wore. Amunet gasped.
“Oh, Sekhet,” she cried, “You’re headdress is covered in lice!”
I put a hand to my mouth.
She was right.
I didn’t know how I couldn’t have seen it before, it was so obvious.
Carefully, Amunet lifted her headdress off as well.
“What sorcery is this?” She said, going pale.
“Sekhet!” Lady Nefertari called to me. Quickly I rushed over, replacing my headdress.
“My lady!” I called before I had even reached her feet. “Amunet and I have found-”
“Moses has cursed us again,” she said before I could finish. “I have heard word from the palace. Already, lice and gnats are spreading everywhere.”
I shuddered at the thought of those tiny bugs crawling around my scalp.
“I know, my lady,” I replied. “Amunet and I both have already discovered that we are infested.”
She nodded as if she had expected this all along.
“It will not be long before all of us will be,” she said. “We must pray that Khepri will lift this curse from us before it spreads.”
“My lady,” another maid servant appeared at our side. “News from pharaoh has just come. The magicians have not been able to duplicate the spell.”
A grave look crossed Nefertari’s face.
“We are at the mercy of the gods now,” she said. “Quickly, Sekhet, go fetch hot water so that we can bathe.”
I obeyed, though my cheeks were flushed a bright red. Lady Nefertari had not asked such menial tasks of me since I was no higher than her knee. Amunet was right, I had always been her favorite, her pet even. I had not even entertained the idea of being replaced, especially by some doe-eyed foreigner.
“Sekhet,” my mother greeted me as I reached the kitchens. “What are you doing here?”
I hoped that my hair covered the blush in my cheeks as I replied.
“Lady Nefertari has sent me to fetch hot water to bathe in. There is lice spreading through the palace.”
My mother nodded.
“I will get the water for you,” she said. “Though it is hard to come by now that Nile is nothing but blood.”
“Thank you, mother,” I said wringing my hands.
“Come,” she gestured, pulling me through the bustle of the kitchen to the fire where she set two full pots to boil, and then sat me down beside it and pulled off my headdress.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” she clucked with her tongue as she combed her fingers through my hair. “I am surprised your lady is asking you for such little things as water. She has asked me if you would move into chambers near hers. She doesn’t look it, but this plagues are wearing on her soul.”
My heart jumped slightly with pride. The embarrassment and jealousy of earlier was gone suddenly.
“She has asked this of you?”
“Oh, she has been asking since you entered her service, but she understands the importance of a family. She says she only asks now because she needs you. I have ordered a few servants to move your things already.”
“She hasn’t mentioned this to me,” I said.
“She must have thought you would be expecting it,” she said, settling the infested headdress back on my head.
I shook my head and the headdress fell crooked across my forehead.
“She has a new favorite. Some slave girl foreigner. She is certainly not Egyptian.”
My mother sighed.
“These are the things of life, Sekhet. We couldn’t have asked for her favor to last much longer, but you are like a daughter to her, and she a second mother to you. You will never truly fall from her favoritism.”
“I hope not,” I said, but I thought of Anitza’s huge eyes and her round face. No wonder Lady Nefertari would prefer her. The jealous feeling in my stomach returned.
My mother sighed again and fixed the headdress.
“Come,” She said, pouring the boiling water into a large jug. “Let us carry this to your mistress.”
Lifting the jug, she regarded me again.
“Flies are rising up from the Nile, it’s been said. They are feeding on the frog flesh.”
“What God is this that would curse us so?” I asked. “He must be an evil God to bring such torment on us.”
“He has no power over us if we don’t allow it,” she replied, steadying the heavy jug with her strong hands.
I wondered silently over my mother’s blatant denial. I did not know this God, but he had already proved himself stronger than our own Egyptian gods. How could my mother say that He had no power?
Lady Nefertari’s room was black with flies.
It had come all of the sudden and without warning and they buzzed everywhere, nipping at our skin and leaving red marks all over.
Any water that we had to wash with was full of dead flies- drowned.
“Sekhet,” Amunet swatted a fly away from my arm. “It was going to bite you.”
“Leave it,” I said. “There are a dozen more.”
I was close enough to see the lice swarming through her eyebrows and I shuddered.
Everyone was affected by the lice and flies. Not even Pharaoh’s magician’s could keep them away and Egypt was in misery.
“When will Moses lift this plague from us?” I wondered in exhausted desperation.
I had hardly slept since the flies arrived, their biting and buzzing was keeping me up nearly all through the night. If I even had a bed to sleep in anymore, it hardly mattered, I had not left my lady.
“Here, Sekhet,” Amunet lifted my headdress and began to comb through my lice ridden locks.
“Thank you,” I sighed, sitting down so that she could reach the top of my head better.
I glanced over to Lady Nefertari. Anitza stood over her with a fan, attempting to breeze the flies away. She didn’t seem to be affected so much by the flies. It was as if they didn’t even bother her, though I could tell that she felt a bit uneasy.
In fact, as I looked closer, she seemed very sad.
“Anitza,” I stopped the servant as she took her leave. “I need to talk to you.”
She looked cautiously at me, but nodded her head in agreement.
“What can I do for you?” she asked me, and swatted a fly away.
“Something is troubling you,” I said. “Something has been. Ever since you came here. I have met many people in Nefertari’s service. Enough to know a nervous person when I see one.”
“I’m fine. Thank you for your concern, Sekhet,” she said with a wry smile. She turned to go, but I reached out and gripped her arm tightly.
“Don’t lie to me, Anitza,” my tone betrayed my irritation. “I am more perceptive than you would believe. You are not an Egyptian. Are you a spy? A part of a plot to assassinate Lady Nefertari, or even the pharaoh? You will tell me!”
Anitza wrenched her arm away from my grasp.
“Leave me alone, Sekhet,” she hissed, backing away as if stung. “You know nothing of my life.”
Then she disappeared down the dark hallway, the patter of her bare feet echoing long after her figure disappeared.