The Land of Reeds

The Land of Reeds – Excerpt

The dead, he had discovered, had mouths and could speak, but they could not be heard.

Or, they could not be heard by the living: the dead talked among themselves with voices of sand and dust. Amenemhet did not wish to talk to the dead. A man who has been murdered wishes to speak to those still living, to lay testament before them, to give warning.

The dead, in their crowded voices, said that Re no longer travelled through the underworld each night. They said that his face was now no more than a ball of fire in the sky. There were no more demons in the underworld, no Apep the serpent, no Amemet the great devourer, no gates, no judges, no scales. There was no Land of Reeds.

The dead said Amun-Re died on the day the Macedonian usurper sat upon the throne of the two lands and proclaimed himself Pharaoh, for Alexander was no true son of Re, no true son of Osiris and so no god.

Perhaps, Amenemhet thought, they were right. All his life, he had studied the map that showed the path through the underworld and learned the words of the Chapter of Renewing the Gates in the House of Osiris which is in Sekhet-Aanru. After his murder, Amenemhet had watched through the eyes of his ka as the sem priest prepared his body and performed the sacrifices and as the kher-het priest read the prayers and instructions. All had been in order, and Amenemhet had felt his ka slip free.

But when night came, his ka had not entered duat. It had remained in the desert sand, and Amenemhet had become aware of the press of the dead around him and the whispers of their dry voices like the desert wind. “Re no longer travels the underworld at night,” they whispered. “His face is but a ball of fire…”

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He left the tombs and the dead behind him and walked down into the town. The narrow streets were busy with the living. Amenemhet passed easily through them, his ka as insubstantial on their skins as his words were on their ears. Other kas of the dead also moved through the streets. They stared at him with drawn, grey eyes. Amenemhet stepped around the dead, sometimes stepping through the whitewashed, mud-brick walls of the houses that lined the tight streets to do so.

Once, in the market, he shouted furiously at the living: “Rep-a Djau has murdered me. He slipped a blade into my throat and left me to bleed to death.” But the living kept on their way, chattering and laughing. Amenemhet spat emptily onto the ground.

“They can’t hear you, you know.”

Amenemhet looked around. The ka of a child was standing behind him. She could not have been more than eight years old when she died. She scarcely came up to Amenemhet’s waist.

“I know,” he said. “Go away.”

Her ka held ghosts of colours. Specks of precious gold swam in her eyes. Most of the kas he had seen had been grey.

“We could help each other,” she said, scampering after him as he strode through the crowd. “I was poor and young. I never saw the maps of the underworld. I never learnt the words to speak at the gates.”

“Go away,” Amenemhet said. “Those things are as dead as Amun-Re. The Land of Reeds is no more. And what could you offer me?”

Amenemhet’s house was on the southern edge of the town, a mile from the rich flow of the Nile, set among the estates of the wealthy. Amenemhet had been hety-a of the town, and all had been pleased to pay him court and to seek his wisdom. Now those same people saw him not and heard him not. The only one who paid him court was the ka of the wretched urchin who dogged his heels like a loose bandage.

“Something,” the child said. “I have been dead for a long time. I know the world of the dead among the living. I know things.”

“Go away,” Amenemhet repeated.

A golden chariot stood outside the gate of his house. The sight of it plunged Amenemhet’s ka into coldness. Rep-a Djau was here. With a roar of rage that did not even stir the dust in the air, Amenemhet plunged through the outer wall.

The murderer was not in the square court, but the door in the north portico stood open, and Amenemhet heard voices from within.

Amenemhet stepped through. Rep-a Djau stood in the centre of the reception room, clad like a pharaoh in his green and gold gown and his bead necklaces. Baketamen, Amenemhet’s wife, sat on an earthenware bench before Rep-a Djau. The two girls, Meryt and Kawit, and his little son, Hori, who was scarcely off his mother’s breast, stood behind Baketamen. Baketamen had obviously been crying, but she had dried her eyes and looked up at Rep-a Djau.

“I have always been a good friend of your husband,” Djau was saying. “He trusted me. Anything I can do for you, I will.”

“Liar,” Amenemhet screamed. “He always envied me you. It wasn’t enough that he was richer than I, that he had the ear of the Tjaty of the two lands. He wanted you. He killed me. Don’t listen to him.”

Baketamen smiled. “You are kind, Rep-a. We will remember your kindness.”

Djau bowed. “You may always call on me.”

Then the murderer turned, and strode out of the house.

When Amenemhet finally thought to look, the ka of the troublesome child had gone.

Continue reading this story in Bone Roads: Nine Stories of Magic and Wonder

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