‘The Scarab of Thutmose’ by Anna Sykora

Anna Sykora has been an attorney in New York and teacher of English in Germany, where she resides with her patient husband and three Norwegian Forest Cats. Writing is her joy, and to date she has placed 92 tales in the small press or on the web; most recently with Nautilus Engine, Spectra, 10,000 Tons of Black Ink and The Loch Raven Review. She has also placed 175 poems.

You can read the first part of the story for free below. If you would like to read more please order the second issue of Alt Hist. We also have an interview with Anna that you might be interested in reading.

The Scarab of Thutmose

by Anna Sykora

‘Pharaoh is trashing his room again.’ The old servant steadied her wig. ‘Fetch Amenhotep, quick.’

As a palace guard marched away, a wig brush flew past him and smashed a vase, scattering lotus flowers and shards. ‘May the gods protect Amenhotep,’ he muttered, ‘or Seti will wreck our country.’

‘I won’t meet the ambassadors,’ Seti shrilled at the servants cowering in his chamber. He kicked an ebony table into the wreck of his gilded, lion-headed bed. ‘I’d rather be staked in the desert for wild beasts to devour.’ Sinking into the sole surviving chair, he flung a cloth-of-gold shawl over his head, as if to hide from the world.

The guard at his heels, the Head Scribe came waddling down the corridor, his fleshy face creased with concern, his bare breasts bobbing. Shaven-headed Amenhotep wore a long kilt of fine, white linen and his collar glittered with gold.

‘Lord of the Two Lands, Eye of Ra,’ he soothed, and young Seti uncovered his face. (With his full lips and fine cheekbones he should have been a woman, Amenhotep thought.)

‘You close the door and come rub my feet,’ the pharaoh commanded. ‘My poor head’s about to burst.’

Shooing the guard and servants away, the scribe pulled shut the mahogany door. ‘My lord,’ he chided, ‘these fits of fury damage your precious image.  What if someone on the staff goes gossiping to the ambassadors?’

‘You dare tell me how to behave?’ Seti caught up a statue of the cat goddess Bastet and brandished it like a club. ‘I should have you flung into the Nile this morning, with the rest of the palace garbage. The crocodiles would feast on your fat flesh.’

‘You won’t do that,’ said Amenhotep calmly. ‘Without me, how could you govern Egypt?’

‘The gods only know, Amy.’  Pouting Seti stuck the statue back in its niche. ‘You’re the only one I trust, since my mother ran off with General Taa. You always know what to do.’

‘So why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you?’ The scribe eased himself down on a ripped cushion, popped off Seti’s expensive sandals and began massaging his delicate feet.

‘Ooh that feels almost as good as dancing.’ Seti leaned back in his ivory chair. ‘I told you before I’m fed up with my duties. What do I care about snails in the Nile that are wrecking the fishing industry?  I just want to dance like a lovely maiden and enjoy life.’ Springing up he spread his arms and twirled like a top, his kilt of silk flying up around his slender thighs.

‘Indeed you have a gift from the goddess Hathor,’ Amenhotep said diplomatically. ‘Our lady of pleasure and drunkenness loves you. She has never favoured me, even when I was young and slim.’

Seti wheeled around the room, as if performing a magic spell to make the palace melt away, along with his tedious responsibilities.

Struggling to his feet the scribe applauded. Seti clapped him on his fat rump: ‘You look like a scribe, Amy, born to sit cross-legged and paint hieroglyphs on papyrus rolls for hours.’ He wiggled his own, narrow hips. ‘But I was not born to sit on a throne and fiddle with decisions.’

Amenhotep sighed. ‘If only we had the scarab of Thutmose, you would learn wisdom and Egypt would be saved.’

‘Saved from what?’ Seti demanded.

‘From yourself, my lord. You are a man; you are seventeen; but you do not govern Egypt as you should.  Your dear father (may he hunt and feast with the gods) would have received the Libyan ambassadors. They want you to marry a princess of their country. They have brought you her painted image.’

‘Oh don’t speak to me of brides or weddings.’ Sinking back in his ivory chair, Seti closed his face in his hands.

‘My lord, she seems an intelligent girl,’ Amenhotep said hopefully. ‘With eyes like a pair of stars and teeth like strings of pearls … If you’d only give a banquet for the Libyans tonight, I think I could arrange for dancers. Wouldn’t a veil dance be delightful?’

‘As you wish,’ said Seti abruptly, a sly look in his almond eyes.

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