The hall was awash with the cries of men. They screamed, cooed and bellowed, echoes returning again and again from the sleek, featureless walls. Some pummelled the ground, while others rocked themselves to the pace of the chants, or sat still in a silent trance upon the gold floor. A ray of sunlight glimmered through an opening high up into the far-off ceiling, illuminating the busts of Gods. In shadow, the silhouettes of birds could be seen; at the edge of the light stood cobras; closer in, frogs and lions; then, in the centre, a black statue, over twice the size of even the tallest man present. The greenish-dark complexion seemed to absorb the light that fell upon it, with the exception of two blinding gold orbs. Sacred eyes.
Beneath, the living Bastet struggled against carefully bound rope. In terror of this strange paralysis and the roaring mass ahead, Bastet yelped desperately, but the people were louder. She began to growl and hiss, again noises smothered by the frenzy. A man with painted eyes and noble status noticed the particular way she squirmed for freedom, and shouted louder. A sign from heaven.
Once the initial worship had finished, food was distributed by servants in clay bowls. Bread, fresh fish, gazelle, sheep-flesh and camel-meat, all served up with home-grown spice and herbs, imported fruit and even some honey. The worshippers ate together, some perched on seats and others on the ground. The men on seats pecked delicately at the meals, while the men below ripped flesh from the bones like they'd never eaten meat before, and many hadn't. A bit later, Pharaoh's women began to dance as supplies of beer circulated through the hall. No one noticed Bastet's rumbling stomach.
After several hours the worshippers, tired from a busy day, returned home with hoarse voices. The carts and camels moved across a path, one by one, to the outer gate carved through high stone walls. They proceeded to rattle across a thin bridge, following the Nile.
Bastet lay in the arms of a servant, her body limp, as he finally carried her from the hall of worship. Through dark corridors he carried the Goddess until reaching a wooden door. With his spare arm he pulled it open and placed her on the ground. She rolled out of his arms onto the cold slab.
"Raneb!" another servant called from down the corridor. "There's a problem with the gate. I think a rope has snapped. Can you take a look? It's urgent."
The servant Raneb turned and jogged in the direction of the voice. In the windowless, underground room, Bastet wearily lifted her head. Her stomach blared intense protests. She saw a faint sliver of light from the doorway. Struggling to stand on her shaking feet, she hobbled to the door. It easily fell back upon her faint nudge, the thud softened by its rotting dampness. Bastet limped towards the light.
She delicately climbed the stairs, dragging her body up each block to get nearer the light. Half way up, boots clanged and she froze. Human voices, more subdued that those she was accustomed to, laughed faintly. Her small heart beat ever faster and she felt the fur rise up above her skin. A snarl crept over her lips, but she suppressed a growl. Stretched seconds passed. One servant jerked towards the stairs - fur raising higher - then the other voice sounded again, and he turned away. Both gone.
At the top of the stairs Bastet found the source of light: an open arch at the front of the temple. As quickly as her wasted muscles would allow, she limped outside. Blind in the sunlight she had never before seen, scent became her primary guide. She followed the path of a delicious, unfamiliar aroma to an empty card. Having gradually regained vision, she planned an easy climb then leapt into it. She burrowed down between a pair of wooden boxes and rested.
After perhaps an hour, or maybe longer, the cart began to move. At first the shaking sensation unsettled Bastet, but she soon laid her head back to rest and slept beneath the desert sun.
"It hasn't returned to the worshipping hall."
"I looked in the pantry."
"Oh, we're finished."
"That cat was a personal favourite of the Vizier."
"Bebi, did you seal the arch at sundown?"
"Yes, you watched me do so."
"Manetho, you checked every cart to leave?"
A frustrated scowl. Then, "Raneb, you did fasten the door to its cage, did you not?"
The silence stirred at the atmosphere of the room, further poisoning minds the longer it was left unchallenged. Seven pairs of eyes turned to Raneb. The scapegoat had been found.
© Copyright 2016 Mathew Nicolson. All rights reserved.
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