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Authors: Gill Harvey

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BOOK: The Spitting Cobra
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‘At the end, dear,’ replied the woman, pointing. ‘Last house before the gate.’

‘Thank you,’ Isis gulped, and set off again, dodging people as she ran. For some reason, a crowd had gathered outside the house of Rahotep. Breathless, she began to wriggle her way through until she could see the door. But then she stopped. The door was firmly shut, and two stern guards stood on either side of it.

.

The three village elders gathered around the priest of Serqet.

‘We have come to see the painter Seti,’ said Khonsu.

‘I know,’ replied Rahotep. ‘But you are too early. He needs to rest.’

‘We’ll see him anyway.’ Baki jerked his head towards Hopi. ‘And get rid of this boy.’

Rahotep regarded him calmly. ‘I cannot do that,’ he said. ‘That boy’s destiny is intertwined with that of Seti. He must stay.’

The three men looked at each other. ‘He can’t do any harm,’ said Nakht.

Baki shrugged. ‘I suppose not.’

‘Take us to Seti,’ ordered Khonsu, turning back to the priest.

Rahotep had no choice. He led the way into the back room where Seti lay still in the cool, dim light. He seemed to be asleep, but as the men gathered around him, he spoke.

‘Who’s there?’ the painter asked in a hoarse voice.

‘Can you hear me clearly?’ asked Rahotep.

Seti licked his lips. ‘Yes. But I am thirsty.’ With a struggle, he sat up.

Rahotep fetched a beaker of water, and placed it to Seti’s lips. ‘The elders of the village are here,’ he said. ‘They wish to talk to you.’

With groping fingers, Seti felt the bandages across his eyes. ‘What do they want?’ he whispered. ‘Is it not enough that I am blind?’

Foreman Nakht kneeled down beside him, and spoke in a voice that was surprisingly gentle. ‘Why do you think you are blind?’ he asked. ‘What have you done to anger the goddess?’

Seti sat very still. His mouth moved, silently. Then, at last, he mumbled some words.

‘Tiya . . . because of Tiya.’


Tiya?
Your sister?’ Nakht looked up, a puzzled frown on his face.

‘I put her in danger.’ Seti’s voice was faint.

Hopi wasn’t sure what he’d expected to hear, but it wasn’t this. And from the faces of the men, he could see it didn’t make sense to them, either. He thought quickly.
Tiya . . . Tiya.
Wasn’t she the dancer that Isis had told him about – the one with a golden bracelet?

Baki folded his arms. ‘He’s making it up,’ he said.

‘No . . . no,’ protested Seti. ‘Her arm is broken and I am being punished for that.’

Baki gave a humourless laugh. ‘Your sister’s arm has nothing to do with this.’

Hopi stared at Baki. He took in the bulky frame and the noble posture, the stiff line to his lip; he listened to the hard, gruff edge to his voice . . .
It’s definitely him
, he thought to himself. His sense of shock returned, for there was no escaping it: Baki had been up to something on the mountain. But he was one of the most powerful men in the village; Nakht and Khonsu clearly trusted him completely. So who was Hopi to question or interfere?

.

Isis ran up to the guards outside Rahotep’s door. ‘Please, let me in,’ she begged. ‘My brother Hopi is in there.’

The guards shook their heads. ‘Impossible,’ they said. ‘Strict orders. No one can enter.’

‘But I have to see him,’ begged Isis. Tears began to flow down her cheeks. ‘Please. He’s in there, I know he is.’

The guards shifted uncomfortably and looked embarrassed. ‘Nothing we can do,’ said one. ‘Orders from Foreman Nakht himself.’

Isis felt like kicking his shins. Some of the villagers gathered around her, coaxing her away from the guards.

‘You can’t go against the word of the foremen,’ a woman told her.

‘Where’s the rest of your family?’ asked another. ‘Where’s that pretty sister of yours?’

At the mention of her
pretty sister
, Isis wanted to howl with rage. If only they knew what Mut had just done! More villagers pressed in, surrounding her, and she found herself gasping for freedom. She looked for a way out. Knowing she could squeeze through the tiniest of spaces, she darted between two men and set off.

‘Hey! Where are you going?’ called the villagers.

There were people ahead, up the street. People in the doorways of their houses. People shouting out behind her, telling her to come back. Isis looked around wildly and saw a little alleyway. Impulsively, she dashed down it and up some steps on to the roof of a house, then ran along the flat rooftops, jumping nimbly from one to another. The houses were built side by side, and the rooftop walls were not high – but she guessed that not many could follow.

None did. From her rooftop vantage point, Isis surveyed the view. The main street ran roughly from north to south, and the mountain with its cemetery stretched high in front of her. Plumes of smoke rose from the houses’ open courtyards, and Isis caught glimpses of women tending ovens, and servants grinding grain.

She was on the roof of a tiny house. She peeped down into the courtyard and saw a figure pacing up and down. Even from above, she seemed somehow familiar: a girl about the same age as Isis, with a slender frame much like her own. Isis listened, and heard a muffled sob. She crept closer, and saw that one arm was bandaged. There was no doubt about it – the girl in the courtyard was Tiya.

Isis wiped her own tears away. She stood at the top of the steps and waited for a minute or two, checking that Tiya was on her own. But there was no sign of anyone else, and no sound other than Tiya’s weeping.

Quietly, she descended, one step at a time. Tiya had stopped pacing, and had slumped down miserably in the shade, hugging her knees and rocking to and fro.

Halfway down, Isis stopped. ‘Tiya!’ she called softly.

The girl went rigid. ‘Who’s there?’

Isis slipped down the last few steps. ‘It’s Isis. We met at the party. I’m one of the dancers from Waset.’

Tiya relaxed in relief. ‘I remember.’ She sniffed, and wiped her nose with her bandaged arm. ‘What were you doing on our roof?’

‘I’m sorry, Tiya, I didn’t mean to frighten you.’ Isis sat down next to her on the papyrus reed mats. ‘I was trying to find my brother Hopi. He’s in Rahotep’s house with Seti. But they wouldn’t let me in. There were guards outside and so many people, all crowding around – I couldn’t bear it. I ran away.’

At the mention of her brother, Tiya went still. ‘Is there news of Seti?’ she whispered.

Isis shook her head. ‘Not that I know. All I’ve heard is that he is with Rahotep. The foremen are there with him, too.’

‘The foremen?’ asked Tiya, her eyes dilated with fear. ‘Baki and Nakht?’

‘I think so,’ said Isis. ‘It was their guards outside . . . but I don’t really know.’

Tiya’s chest was heaving, her breathing rapid and shallow. She seemed close to panic. Isis thought of the gold bracelet, and was hardly surprised. But she felt sorry for Tiya, too. Like Heria, she found it hard to believe that she was guilty.

Isis twiddled her fingers, wondering what to say. Maybe it would be best to change the subject. ‘That must be where you fell,’ she observed, nodding at the courtyard steps.

Tiya looked at her sharply. ‘Where I? No –’ She stopped. ‘I mean, yes,’ she said, turning her face away.

Isis looked at the steps, frowning. They were well made – not even very steep, and Tiya was light and nimble like herself. ‘But how?’ she asked. ‘Did you trip?’

‘I . . . think so.’

‘You
think
so? Don’t you remember?’ Isis was incredulous now.

Tiya bowed her head. ‘Please don’t ask about it,’ she said. She picked nervously at the linen bandage that was wrapped around her arm. In daylight, Isis could see the splints of wood that held the bones still, poking out of the bandages. The doctor of Set Maat had done a good job.

Eventually, Tiya spoke. ‘It’s no use,’ she said. ‘If the foremen have got involved, we must be doomed. I might as well tell you the truth. I didn’t fall down the steps at all.’

That was no great surprise. ‘So what
did
happen?’ asked Isis.

Tiya bit her lip. ‘I was helping Seti,’ she began, and then she spilled out her story.

.

As the foremen crowded in closer, Seti’s body seemed to quake in fear. ‘I am not lying,’ he insisted. ‘By the goddess who has taken my sight, I am telling you the truth. It was all my fault. I made Tiya go into the tunnel –’

‘The tunnel? What tunnel?’ Nakht pounced on the word.

‘I found it – a tunnel leading into the mountain –’

‘Found it? You mean you
made
it,’ Baki cut in. ‘You and who else? You did not carve it alone.’

Nakht waved a hand at Baki. ‘Let him speak,’ he said.

Seti shook his head. ‘All I did was find it, I swear. I’m just a painter – I know nothing about digging tunnels.’

‘Then you should,’ commented Khonsu dryly. ‘All our men know something of each other’s work. But that is beside the point. Where did this tunnel lead to?’

Hopi was listening intently. Would Seti’s story match with what they had found? The young painter groped over his bandages again, then let his hand fall.

‘I don’t know.’ Seti’s voice was faint. ‘It was narrow, half-blocked, full of crumbling rocks . . . I couldn’t get far. So I fetched Tiya. She didn’t want to come, but I insisted. She is small, and much nimbler. I wanted to see if she could get further inside. But then . . . but then . . .’ Seti stopped. His shoulders were shaking.

‘Go on,’ Nakht pressed him.

‘A section collapsed when she was clambering through. That is how her arm was broken.’

Silence fell. Hopi’s mind was racing. Could it be true? He thought over what he had seen – the secret tunnel, the royal tomb. None of that fitted with what Seti described. But then he remembered something else. In the last dying light from the acacia twigs, he had seen a second dark hole in the walls of the tomb. A second hole – perhaps, indeed, a second tunnel.

‘Lies,’ growled Baki. ‘All lies.’

‘I am not so sure,’ said Rahotep. ‘We all know Seti. I myself have worked with him in the tombs. Is this story so unlikely? He is already suffering the wrath of the gods. I do not think he would want to anger them further.’

Baki snorted. ‘He admits he has entered a tunnel. He wants us to believe that he has not entered a tomb! Brother Rahotep, you are being either stupid or naive. All we need to know now is who else is involved.’

‘And what about Tiya?’ queried Khonsu.

Baki shrugged. ‘I heard she had fallen down some steps.’

Nakht got to his feet. ‘There is only one way to find out,’ he said. ‘We must go and question her. We will soon find out if their stories match.’

Hopi watched them go. Seti’s story could be true. He
wanted
it to be true, and hoped with all his heart that Tiya’s words would confirm it.

.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Tiya was trembling. Isis stood close by her side as she faced the most important men in the village.

‘Tell us how you broke your arm,’ said Nakht.

‘I fell,’ whispered Tiya. She nodded towards the courtyard steps. ‘Down there.’

Isis felt alarmed. She had heard the story from beginning to end, but now Tiya was backtracking! It seemed very foolish.

Baki turned to the others in satisfaction. ‘You see? Seti must be lying.’

‘Seti . . .’ Tiya’s voice was anguished. ‘What’s happened to him?’

‘He will live. But he will no longer see,’ Khonsu told her.

Tiya let out a little sob. She swayed, and Isis feared she would fall. She placed an arm around her while the men waited for her to recover.

Then Nakht spoke. ‘Your brother has told us something different,’ he said. ‘Are you still going to stick to this story?’

‘Tell them the truth, Tiya,’ Isis whispered.

BOOK: The Spitting Cobra
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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