Authors: Gill Harvey
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, Berlin and New York
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
36 Soho Square, London, W1D 3QY
Text copyright © Gill Harvey 2010
Illustrations copyright © Peter Bailey 2010
The moral right of the author has been asserted
This electronic edition published in July 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 4088 1251 8
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Also by Gill Harvey
The Spitting Cobra
The Horned Viper
The Sacred Scarab
Orphan of the Sun
Hopi and Isis can remember the terrible accident on the River Nile, when they lost their parents to crocodiles. Hopi still bears crocodile teethmarks on his leg. But five years have passed, and they’ve been lucky: eleven-year-old Isis is a beautiful dancer, and she’s been spotted by a dance and music troupe in the town of Waset. Now they live with the troupe, and Isis performs regularly. Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old Hopi, marked by the gods, pursues his strange connection with dangerous creatures . . .
Join them in the world of ancient Egypt as they uncover the dark deeds happening around them. If there’s anything you don’t understand, you may find an explanation at the back of the book.
The peasant was resting in the shade of a sprawling tamarisk tree, lying on his side with his head resting on his hand. The view was nothing special: fields of closely cropped stubble. But as the peasant gazed over them, he sighed in satisfaction. A few weeks ago, these same fields had been a sea of swaying wheat, golden ripe in the Egyptian sun. The gods had blessed him this year. The annual Nile flood had reached the perfect level, leaving behind a rich layer of silt. The seeding had gone to plan. The crop had pushed itself up eagerly and had ripened earlier than expected.
With great rejoicing, the peasant and his family had brought in the harvest and threshed and winnowed the grain. They had stored it in their mud-brick storage hut and shut the door. Then they had started to celebrate.
‘Let us give thanks to the gods!’ the peasant’s wife had cried. ‘We are going to eat well all year. We even have surplus to trade!’
The peasant had smiled to see her so happy. He smiled again now at the thought of it, and sat up. As he did so, some movement caught his eye. It was two of his sons, running full tilt in his direction.
‘Father! Father!’ Their voices were high with panic.
The peasant got up. ‘What is it?’ he called.
‘They’re everywhere! Thousands of them!’
‘It’s a plague!’
The peasant stood still. The vision of the golden wheat blowing in the breeze came into his mind, then vanished. ‘A plague of what?’
‘Mice, mice – they’re eating their way through the store hut! Come quickly!’
The peasant picked up his stick and ran. The boys had left the store hut door open, and inside, the grain seemed alive. All over it swarmed a seething mass of rodents, squeaking and scurrying, scrambling over each other in a united feeding frenzy. The peasant gave a howl of anguish and raised his stick. Wildly, savagely he thrashed at the mice, beating and beating until his arms burned with the effort. And still they swarmed – under his feet, around his ankles, now wriggling and writhing in terror.
Vaguely, the peasant was aware that the rest of his family had joined in. Neighbours, even. They used anything they could find – planks of wood, lengths of rope, smashing the furry creatures with great swinging crashes. Screams of children mingled with the squeaks and the desperate shouts of the adults . . .
At last it was over. The mice left alive fled out into the fields where they belonged. The peasant leaned against the store hut wall and stared at what was left of his harvest. How much? A quarter? A third?
He reached for the amulet that he wore around his neck. It had protected them for many years, but it had failed them now. He wrenched it loose and, in a gesture of utter despair, he hurled it to the ground.
He had not meant to break it; but, as destiny would have it, the amulet did not hit the soil, but a stone. The peasant stared down at what he had done.
‘It is a sign,’ he whispered.
Isis put her hands on her hips and stretched. Her muscles ached. In fact, she was weary all over. They’d been rehearsing day in, day out for weeks.
‘Everyone ready?’ asked Nefert, picking up her lute. ‘Don’t pull that face, Isis. You know very well how important this is.’
Isis moved into position. ‘Sorry, Nefert,’ she said. ‘I’m just tired.’
‘At your age? Nonsense.’
Nefert began plucking the lute’s strings. Kia joined in on her flute, while Sheri lifted a lyre. Together the three women played a joyful melody that filled the whole house. Isis made herself concentrate again, watching Nefert carefully. When she saw a raised eyebrow, she skipped into the centre of the room and began to dance, with her partner Mut joining her from the opposite corner. In time, the two girls swayed their hips and raised their hands high above their heads.
Somebody banged on the front door, and everyone stopped.
interruption!’ Nefert snapped. ‘Who is it this time?’
‘Oh, it’ll be the wheat!’ exclaimed Sheri. ‘It’s about time that arrived. Nefert, I’ll have to show them the storeroom.’ She put down her lyre and hurried out.
Nefert looked cross. ‘Come straight back!’ she called after her sister. ‘We
get this right today. We have only five days left.’
Isis and Mut rolled their eyes at each other. As far as they were concerned, the routine was already perfect. But Nefert wouldn’t let them stop practising because, for the first time ever, they were going to be part of the Beautiful Festival of the Valley that took place each year. The king himself would accompany the gods of Waset to his great mortuary temple, and Nefert was determined to make an impression.