This story appears in Cat Tales 2, published by Wildside Press.
The Scribe Vanishes (Excerpt)
T. Lee Harris
I awoke to a woman screaming. This was, however, not unusual. Since I came to live in Pi-Ramesses, I’d shared a room with my cousin Ahmose over his widowed mother’s linen shop. Aunt Tiaa was my mother’s sister and that side of the family was never noted for placidity. She was in rare form and the apprentices were taking the brunt of it.
At a fresh volley, Mose and I exchanged glances. We dressed fast and ran for it. I was luckier than Mose. He worked in the shop. I’d recently landed a job in the House of Life archives at the temple of Bastet.
The temple precincts were busier than usual with everyone preparing for the big festival that was coming up. Few pharaohs had seen the thirty-year reign required to hold their first Heb-Sed. The divine Ramesses II was celebrating his second. Ten days of feasting and fun. I was looking forward to it.
As I reached the Avenue of the Sphinxes leading to the temple gates, the wind shifted bringing the scent of roasting meat with it. It was probably Nakht’s heavenly honey-roasted goose. Unfortunately, it also reminded me I’d left home without breakfast. The merchant stalls with their promise of food suddenly looked very inviting.
Up ahead, the High Priest’s ancient servant, Huya, hobbled out of the private quarters. He saw me, waved and picked up his pace. This was impressive given both his age and the fact he’d nearly died from a blow to the head a short time ago. Forgetting the good smells, I hurried to meet him halfway.
It wound up being more than halfway and the old man wheezed alarmingly. Leaning heavily on his stick, he glanced at the vicinity of my feet and flinched. “Ah, I see the Sacred One is with you.”
By “Sacred One,” he meant my companion, Nefer-Djenou-Bastet, and he said it much the same way he would say “Maddened Cobra That Spits Boiling Acid.” I couldn’t blame him. Neffi had only been with me for a short time and, by and large, I agreed with Huya’s opinion. Neffi is – or was – a temple cat, sacred to both the goddess Bastet and the Great God, Amun; and one day not so very long before, he decided he liked me. To say it changed my life is an understatement.
The old man eyed the cat. Neffi blinked and yawned, then fell to washing his hind leg. Satisfied that no nips, scratches or unexpected wet noses were forthcoming, Huya said, “I’m glad I met you, Scribe. My master instructed me to leave a message in the House of Life that he wished to speak with you in private as soon as possible. Now I can take you to him myself.”
For most junior scribes, being summoned by a High Priest was heady stuff. For me, it probably meant trouble. I wasn’t expecting a tongue-lashing or anything like that. High Priest Pedibastet liked me and, because of my bond with Neffi, trusted me completely. As a result, his brother-in-law liked and trusted me, too. His brother-in-law was Crown Prince Merenptah, heir to the throne of the Two Lands. Somehow, I’d even managed to foil a plot against the royal house. Trouble was, no one believed it had more to do with dumb luck and Neffi’s uncanny sense for trouble than skill. Huya’s manner warned me this was more of the same. And here I’d been planning on a nice, peaceful festival. I glared at Neffi who was bathing his butt on the walkway. “Let’s go. This is probably your fault, anyway.”