What if the enemy of your enemy...is an angry god bent on revenge? An original myth.
|TITLE: The Price Of Forgetfulness
GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, drama, thriller/suspense.
SUMMARY: What if the enemy of your enemy...is an angry god bent on revenge? An original myth.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 8000+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Fantasy violence, mild adult language, mild adult themes.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Certain characters are from Egyptian mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Egyptian mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2002 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
RELATED STORIES: "The Book Of The Gods; Or, Tales Of Kemet" (short stories), "Horus" (novel), "The Ameni Chronicles" (serial--ADULT CONTENT), "Related Tales" (short stories--ADULT CONTENT)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the other Kemet short stories and/or the Kemet/Egyptian mythology as I make use of it in my writing; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This is the final completed/rewritten story from the original City Of The Sun collection. I wish I knew why this particular theme keeps recurring in my works. Not really much else to say, as the story speaks for itself. An error--the measurement "feet" is used, something I would eschew in an ancient Egypt story today.
* * * * *
THE VILLAGE WAS small but it was a good place to live. After all, they did have the river.
That much was true. The village perched right upon the bank of the great river, within sight of its placid waters. Each year it flooded and they had a good crop, the village proper sitting atop a rise which prevented the streets from flowing with water; the grass grew in abundance so there was plenty of food for their livestock; and the winds off of the waters kept the settlement cool in the hot summer months. So, although it wasn't very great in size, it was the perfect place to live.
That is, it would have been the perfect place to live...if the lord of the ruling family in the village hadn't set his eyes on Asutet. For that was when all of his real problems began.
Asutet was a lovely young woman from one of the poorer families in the village, but, because of the smallness of the latter, she had easily been picked to be a servant of the ruling household. They didn't need many servants, as only three lived there--the ruling lord, his aging father, and his wife. Each slept in their own section of the building, as was proper. Asutet was only a minor servant and so she didn't have access to their rooms, but the lord was willing to give her access, for a price. And, on the condition that she remain silent. Only Asutet was so far unaware of this.
This lord had been so preoccupied in keeping his eye on Asutet that lately he'd forgotten his duties of bringing offerings to the shrine of the river god Hapi, and so it remained bare day after day, month after month, and this, naturally, was beginning to anger the god. He could be a great giver when there were offerings placed upon his altars and prayers said in his temples, but he could also be a great taker when not propitiated. The flooding time had not arrived yet, so he could do nothing but bide his time until it came. The villagers had no idea...but this year, Hapi intended to be the taker.
One night, as the day of the Inundation grew ever closer, Asutet was up late, making certain she'd put everything in its proper place and had cleaned up everything that was to be cleaned. She was stacking the clay dishes on a shelf when a lapping sound caught her attention. Puzzled, she turned around to see the family cat licking spilled milk from the floor. "Ohhh," Asutet sighed, slightly annoyed, but she bent to pick up the small animal and held it to her, stroking its head. When she stood she found she was no longer alone; there was a man facing her. She let out a little cry and dropped the cat, which ran off with its tail between its legs. Her fright was only temporary, however, as she saw it was only the lord of the house, giving her an amused look. She put a hand to her breast and let out her breath.
"I apologize, Lord," she said, giving a slight bow. "You frightened me. I was just going to clean this up." So saying, she knelt down and started to mop up the milk.
"Do you need any help?" the lord asked.
"No, thank you!" Asutet replied. The color rose in her cheeks as she thought of how she'd acted on seeing him. How embarrassing! "I'm sorry about the mess, Lord. The cat must have gotten into the milk again!"
"So she did...she does that often, doesn't she?" Asutet stood; she recognized conversation when she heard it, and didn't wish to be rude. "I'm the one who should be apologizing," he went on. "For startling you. I hadn't meant to."
"No, it's all right," she reassured him with another small bow as she headed to the wash basin to wring out the cloth she'd mopped up the milk with. "Forgive me, but I have to clean up the floor. We might talk as soon as I'm done, if you'd like, Lord."
"That's fine," he said, coming forward and taking the cloth from her hand. She blinked with surprise. "This can stay until tomorrow. One of the other servants will clean it up, I'm sure. Actually I was hoping I could speak with you right now."
Asutet was puzzled, but nevertheless obeyed. He was the lord of the household. "All right, if this is what you wish, Lord," she said, trying to hide her confused look.
"This is what I wish," he replied with a smile, looping his arm about hers and steering her out of the kitchens into the hallway.
"What would you like to speak about, My Lord?" Asutet asked as they walked together down the hall. The truth was, she had no idea what nobility liked to talk about in their free time.
"You," he said, surprising her again. "You never speak much. You've worked here for eight months now, and I barely know anything about you."
She gave a small, timid smile. "Well--I'm a servant, Lord. I'm not supposed to talk much."
He laughed. "Is that what you've been taught all along? Forget that then! I wish to know the people who work for me. It's better than dealing with strangers; more comfortable, as well." She noticed that they had arrived at the entrance to his quarters. Here he turned back to face her. "So tell me a bit about yourself. How old are you?"
"Nineteen, My Lord."
He laughed again. "You can drop this 'My Lord' business. It's not as if I'm a king or anything!"
Now she shook her head adamantly. "Oh, no, My Lord...it's proper. You're above my family's standing and I'm your servant...so I'll call you nothing else, if you don't mind, Lord."
He cocked his head to the side, the corner of his mouth twitching in a smile, then shrugged it off. "Very well, have it your way. But still." He opened his door and gestured inside. "Would you come in? Just for a bit?"
Asutet eyed the room with its, to her, lavish furnishings and for the first time felt just a tiny bit uncomfortable. "No, thank you, My Lord," she declined, taking a step back. "I should be getting back to my own quarters now. The others will be wondering where I am." She bowed. "But I thank you most graciously for the invita--"
She was cut off in midsentence when his hand grabbed her arm. She looked up and he smiled at her, then let go.
"Please, come in," he coaxed. "If only just for a little while. We could talk if you'd like. I still don't know very much about you. Will you join me?"
Asutet's brow furrowed as she looked from him to his room to the end of the hall and back again. Finally she relented; it was best not to be rude to the head of the household. "Very well, Lord," she replied, resigned, then added, "but only for a short while..."
"Good!" he exclaimed, holding the door for her. "Come in. Please, be seated. Let us talk."
She obeyed, wondering why he was suddenly so interested in talking about her. She'd lived there for nearly a year; why now? The master of a household getting to know one of his servants? She didn't remember him ever questioning the others who worked for him. There was something odd about this. Still, she sat and he sat opposite her and she answered his questions for a time. For a while he simply asked her about her family, where she had come from, had she any siblings to speak of, what they were like, where she had lived before this, how she liked his household compared to there. It seemed harmless enough; perhaps he was merely bored or lonely. But after some time she began to feel uncomfortable again, a nagging little voice in the back of her head wondering why he was so very curious. And then the questions changed. He gave her a look, then spoke.
"Asutet, have you ever had any suitors?"
She started, taken aback by the question. "Wh--why, no, My Lord," she stammered, flushing. "Not at all. Why do you wish to know?"
"For no reason," he replied. "I was only wondering. But there's never been anyone special? Not a one?"
Now she was really beginning to feel uneasy. "No...not that I can think of." She stood up a bit abruptly, hands fiddling. "Please excuse me, Lord...but it's most late, and I hate to bother you. I think I should be going now." She bowed and quickly headed for the door.
She jumped back with surprise when the door slammed shut before her. Startled, she turned her head. There beside her stood the lord of the house with his hand upon the door, only he looked different--his friendly expression had gone, replaced by one that seemed almost angry. "Stay," he grated. His voice wasn't asking this time. "We're not through talking yet."
"I--I believe we are," Asutet managed to get out, reaching for the door. But he grabbed her wrist sharply before she could and she gasped.
"You're hurting me!" she cried.
"I told you to stay!" he shot back, pulling her away from the door. She stumbled, rubbing her wrist and staring at him with wide eyes. She started to back away as he came toward her.
"Stay, Asutet," he said, his voice grown softer now, but she could see in his eyes that he didn't mean it. "You don't have to leave yet. No one will have to know."
She started to panic inside as she began to realize what he intended. Asking a mere servant to his private quarters? To talk? How naive could she be? "I--I really must leave now," she murmured, sliding along the wall toward the door. "The others--they'll be wondering where I am. They might get worried."
She'd hoped this might shake him a little, make him back off, but it didn't work. "They don't have to know," he replied. "And neither does my wife. No one will have to know but us. Just stay a little longer."
Asutet finally felt the doorhandle beneath her palm. "I really have to go!" she cried, suddenly turning and pulling upon it sharply. She let out a shriek as he grabbed for her. She heard a tearing sound and shot a glance behind herself. He'd torn the top of her dress and was coming for her again. She turned back to the door and tugged wildly. Why wouldn't it open! He got a hold of her arm and twisted it behind her back, forcing another scream from her. A rattling sound now came from outside and both of them looked up at the door. It burst open and light poured into the room from several lit lamps carried aloft. A group consisting of several guards, servants, and the lord's wife gaped in at them, mouths open.
The wife, holding up a lamp, stared at the two of them, stunned, unable to speak at first. When she finally did she could only ask, "Husband--what's--what's going on here?"
Neither Asutet nor the lord could speak, either. Caught off guard, the lord let go of Asutet's arm, and she collapsed to the floor, using her hands to hold up the torn part of her dress. The lord stepped forward several paces, only to have his wife step back, away from him. He looked down at Asutet, then back at the others, and stammeringly replied.
"I--I don't--I have no--" he stuttered, looking first at one and then the other. "I don't know how I--" He started turning slowly in circles as if dazed. Asutet stared at him, mouth open in disbelief at the transparency of his acting. "I--I really don't know how I got here!" he exclaimed, looking around the room. "The last thing I remember I was asleep in bed--I have no idea how I got up--" He caught sight of Asutet and then, as if seeing her for the first time, pointed an accusing finger at her, horror lining his face. "It's--her! It's her! She must have done this!"
"What?" his wife asked, dubious.
"But--I--" Asutet blurted.
"It's her!" he cried again. "She must be a witch! I was sleeping and she must have come in and put some kind of spell on me! I honestly had no idea what was happening! I swear by the feather of Maat!"
Asutet stumbled to her feet, stunned by such a blatant lie. "But I--I had nothing to--I didn't have anything to--!"
"Get out!" the lord's wife shrieked suddenly, swinging at her with a staff that had been leaning against the wall. "You're lucky that I don't have you killed for such trickery! Using your black heka on my husband! Get out of here and never come back!"
Asutet yelped when the staff struck her across the back. She fell but got to her feet again and stumbled from the room, trying desperately to defend herself. How could they not see through such a shoddy act! "I really didn't do anything!" she cried, shielding her face from the blows. "I swear it! He's lying! I did nothing!"
"You little whore!" the wife screamed, unhearing. "You think you can come here and take anything you wish. What else did you have your thieving eyes set upon! You are lucky I caught you this time. I would have torn them out the next!" Asutet yelped again as the staff struck her on the neck and knocked her down a second time. By now she was at the entrance of the household and managed to escape another blow by running outside. The wife stood inside the doorway, screaming and shaking her fist at the air; the guards and other servants only stared with wide eyes, not certain what was going on.
The lord himself suddenly came at her with a broom and smacked her on the side of the head. Asutet fell down in the dust. Coughing, she started to get up, only to see a shadow looming above her. Looking up, she saw that he stood there. He jabbed a finger down at her.
"Say a word of this to anyone," he hissed, "and you'll wish you were dead. No one will take your word over mine. And you may only return," he continued with a leer, "when you agree to that which we spoke of--pretty servant!"
With that, he swung at her again, striking her back several times before she was able to scramble to her feet and flee for the welcoming shelter of the river.
* * * * *
Asutet was dusty, tired, and aching by the time she reached the riverbank out of sight of the village, having wandered a ways north. Hiding herself in a small thicket of papyrus near the shallow water, she sat down with a splash and began to cry. A few marsh birds nearby were startled by the noise and flapped away, squawking noisily. She didn't even notice them, she was so absorbed in her own grief. How could her own master do such a thing! And then to lie, and blame it all on her. And they believed it! How could something so awful happen, when she'd always tried to be the best servant she could? What had she done to deserve it? No answers were forthcoming, so she pressed her hands to her eyes and wept aloud, almost forgetting about the sting from the bruises on her arms and back.
She was so preoccupied wondering how she had ended up in this state that she didn't notice the slight movement of the waters before her. There was no wind. The reeds themselves were still. But a small crest formed on the water and came slowly her way. Asutet buried her face in her arms, sobbing.
With barely a sound, the water rose and shifted into a clear blue mass, taking the form of a man crowned with papyrus plants. Curious, he bent forward, waist high in water, to look at the forlorn figure before him. Asutet paid him no attention. So he moved closer and, seeing the bruises and cut marks on her shoulders and back, scooped up a handful of river water and poured it over her to clean the wounds. Asutet felt the water but at first did nothing, not certain of what it might be. But when he did it again she finally lifted her head a bit, perplexed, to see that there was something--someone--just in front of her, watching her every move. With a start and a small cry, she jumped up, splashing water every which way.
There, waist deep in water, floated what appeared to be a man with papyrus plants on his head, eyeing her curiously. Asutet started to tremble as she realized who he was. He wore the plants of the river as his crown; his lower half itself seemed to fade into, become, the very water it rested within. She recognized a neter when she saw one, and felt her hands go cold, her heart shrinking in on itself. This wasn't turning out to be a very good day.
Shaking and terrified, she dropped down to the water again, prostrating herself in the reeds. Now what was going to happen? She'd displeased her lord, for whatever reason; to displease a god would be even worse. Especially a god whose altars had not been covered in offerings for months! Yet he merely stayed where he was, looking at her with mild interest rather than anger. She cringed when she finally heard him speak--but his voice was normal, like that of her own people.
"What does such a pathetic creature, crying in my waters?" he inquired. She didn't know if he spoke to her or to himself or to any of the river creatures that might be nearby. "This is no fish or turtle or wading bird. It appears to be a mortal. With bruises all over herself, no less. Tell me, mortal, why are you wetting the river with your tears?"
Asutet raised herself slowly, still quaking, to face the river god. She wiped at her running eyes. Hapi still didn't look angry, but appeared to be waiting for an answer. She had no idea what to say to him...her parents had never taught her how to properly address a god. She suspected they'd never felt she might actually meet one! She opened her mouth a few times, but nothing came out.
He seemed to sense her fear and reached out and took her hand just for a moment, then drew back into the water. He did this so quickly that she didn't have time to respond...but after another moment she felt a wave of warmth pass over her, and her fear melted away. It was as if she had known him for years. She still felt a bit embarrassed by her current state, however, and so started off somewhat slowly, feeling rather stupid.
"I--I'm a servant from a nearby household," she explained to the listening god. "At least, I was. I was just forced out. I can't go back there anymore. I don't know what to do."
"Why were you forced to leave?" Hapi asked. "Surely they gave you some good reason?"
"It--it was something I didn't do--I didn't have anything to do with it!" Asutet said plaintively. "The lord of the household, he--he must have taken a liking to me--or some such--but he's married, so I didn't wish to get into any trouble...but he tried to force me, and then the lady of the house came along and caught him. He claimed that I'd tried to bewitch him! I tried to explain but they beat me with sticks and threw me out. The lord came to me and told me that if I ever want to return, I'll have to do what he wants. I don't want to do that. So now I have nowhere to go."
By now she had started to cry again; Hapi, on the other hand, was starting to look angry. She wondered if she'd offended him somehow, and only hoped that whatever he did, he did it quickly. He sank into the water up to his chest, then said, "This lord you speak of--does he live in the largest household in the village? The one with the stone sphinxes out front?"
Asutet nodded, wiping her eyes.
Hapi's frown darkened and she shrank back. "He is the one responsible for maintaining my altar, then." He glanced up at her sharply. "Listen, mortal. I see you're afraid of me, and not only because I am a neter. Tell me why it is that you are truly afraid."
"B-because your altars have gone empty," Asutet stammered. "For too long now. I would have brought an offering, had I only had something to give--"
"Which you did not. Because of this 'lord' of yours. He who is truly the one who should be at fault for this oversight." He rose a little bit again, looking thoughtful. Then he lifted his head. "Listen, mortal--have you any sort of name?"
"Asutet," she replied.
"Listen then, Asutet," he said, floating closer, "I have a way for you to retrieve your position as servant, without needing to bow to your master's wishes--and possibly for me to be avenged for his forgetfulness as well. Will you do exactly as I say, for all of this?"
Asutet's eyes widened and she nodded. "I will, Lord. I was ever against your altars going empty."
He nodded this time. "Very well. Listen closely then, and I'll tell you just what I have in mind..."
* * * * *
Early morning found the lord of the household outside, looking over his grounds and breathing in the fresh morning air. The sunlight lit the dew on the grass, but he knew not for long before the heat would burn it off. A few laborers were busily fixing the old irrigation ditches in preparation for the upcoming flood. He decided to leave them to their menial task, and had turned to go back inside when a figure slightly off to his left caught his attention. Turning back, he saw that it was...Asutet?
He gaped at her in open surprise for a moment as she came closer. She looked...different from before; there was something mysterious, a foreboding air about her. She walked toward him as if she still worked within the household, and was simply returning to her post. Such nerve! Frowning with annoyance, he headed her way to cut her off, and she stopped when he reached her.
"Asutet," he said mildly. "You're the last person I expected to see. In case you forgot our little conversation, you were informed you couldn't come back here." He paused and his mouth twitched. "That is, unless you've changed your mind...?"
"I haven't forgotten," Asutet replied, "nor have I changed my mind."
He snorted and threw up his arm, pointing toward the river, in the direction from which she'd come. "Then I suggest you leave. Or else you'll have more bruises than you can count!"
"I've come to give you a warning," she said, as if he hadn't even spoken. "I'm not the one who's forgotten anything. That would be you, Lord."
He blinked, and his arm lowered slowly. "What are you talking about?" he murmured, puzzled.
"You'll find out soon enough." She lowered her head slightly. "I've come to warn you. If you do not tell the truth to your wife, and allow me back into your household without lifting your threat, a fate even worse than the one you have cast upon me will fall upon your village."
"Like?" he jeered. "Perhaps you could be more specific, little servant?"
"A flood," Asutet said. "The likes of which you have never seen. If you do not confess to your lies and irresponsibility before the week is out, the river will flood this village. Fortunately, if you accept, no harm will be done, and none will meet their deaths. But if you refuse, this much will happen. And then more. That I can guarantee."
He laughed aloud. "A flood!" he scoffed. "Of course the river will flood. Every year it does! But not in our village. As if you control the river! Little servant Asutet!" He threw back his head and laughed again while she stood silent. "Perhaps I was right about you. Perhaps you really are a witch!" He continued laughing, but Asutet did not back down. Her fists tightened and her face set.
"I tell you the river will flood this village by the end of the week, unless you proclaim my innocence," she repeated herself, straightfaced and unmoving. He stopped laughing now, growing irritated by her refusal to give in, and turned toward her with a dark look, one finger jabbing in her face.
"Listen, little witch," he hissed threateningly. "You're just a poor servant. And not even that much anymore. Gods know what you are nowadays, what you do to make a living! I do not wish to know! You've been made unwelcome here. No one will believe what you say. A flood--indeed! Too much river water has ruined your brain!" He pointed away from her, toward the river. "Back you go. At least until you learn your proper place here. Else I'll call my guards and have you whipped clear to the other end of the village!"
"This is unnecessary," Asutet said quietly. "I leave you now. But remember what I've told you, if you truly care for your people. You have until this week is out. That is three days. If you haven't done as I've told you by then, you'd best know how to swim, for you'll find the river passing straight through the halls of your household."
The lord snorted and whirled away before thinking of another choice insult to fling at her, and turned back. But Asutet was nowhere to be seen. Startled, he glanced about his property, but there was nowhere she could have hidden herself so quickly. It was as if she'd vanished!
Thoroughly shaken, yet telling himself to forget about the troublesome woman, he let out his breath and retired to his house.
* * * * *
Asutet approached the bank of the river where she had spoken with the god the night before. She shook her head, unused to being transported so--she hadn't even had to walk this far--but looked up when Hapi appeared from the water below, giving her an inquisitive look.
"Well? How did he take it?"
She shook her head and sighed. "He didn't believe me. As I told you. He practically laughed me out."
Hapi's eyes narrowed, but the corner of his mouth twisted up. "Little need to worry about that too long," he mused. "He'll not be laughing much three days from now. Stay here by the waters, within the reeds, and you will be protected. We'll see how funny he finds his situation at the end of the week." With this he disappeared again beneath the calm waters, leaving barely a ripple behind him.
Asutet, deciding to believe him, sighed once more and retreated within the papyrus thicket that she had made her home.
* * * * *
It was late at night, a few days later, the time that almost everyone in the village was asleep when the lord received the news. A servant rushed into his rooms, not even bothering to knock, panting and gasping for breath. He sat up in bed, giving the young man a vicious glare.
"I hope you have good reason for disturbing my sleep so rudely!" he snapped, hardly in the mood for punishing, but deeming it necessary if warranted.
"The...the river," the servant panted, hand to his breast. "The river, Lord! It's flooding!"
"So?" He pushed the covering off his bed and stomped his feet down onto the floor with a scowl. "It does this every year, fool!"
"But--but not in the village!"
Growing alarmed, he pushed himself out of bed and brushed past the servant in just his loincloth and kilt, hurrying to see for himself. The servant followed, breathless. The rest of the members of the household had gathered out in the hallways and were hurrying toward the front entrance as well, chattering and murmuring. When they reached the outer court he saw it was exactly as he'd been told. People were running everywhere, trying to save what belongings they could before the encroaching water swallowed them up. It lapped at the houses that stood not too far away from his own. He hoped perhaps it wouldn't rise high enough to reach his own house, the highest in the village, but even as he thought this he saw that the river was still advancing, and at an alarming rate.
Asutet's words suddenly replayed themselves in his mind, as if to taunt him, and he shuddered. No one knew of the conversation they'd had, except for her and himself. If this flood was the result of his carelessness, as she had hinted...then no one else had to know! It could still be just a freak accident. The river did overstep its bounds, once in a while...though certainly not within his lifetime, nor at such a bizarre moment as this...
Trying to calm himself, telling himself that he was right, what Asutet had said had to have been a mere coincidence, he turned to the servant who still hovered at his elbow. "Seek out my guards. Have them tell everybody to stop panicking and to evacuate the village until the water subsides. We'll meet on the nearest high rise, or in the desert, if needed. Hurry it up!"
"Yes, Lord." The servant started to dash off, only to stop abruptly in his tracks with a cry. The lord turned and his eyes grew wide at what he saw.
The river had by now flooded almost all of the village, rising so much as several feet above ground near some houses. But now a miraculous thing happened. The waters began to recede! Astonished, the lord and his servant--and everyone else who still remained--watched as the floodwaters started to shrink back toward the river, leaving the houses dry and untouched. It was as if there had never even been a flood at all!
"Amazing!" the servant cried.
"Impossible!" the lord exclaimed. He ran to investigate a nearby house, constructed of dried mudbrick. It was perfectly fine--not even a damp spot! That couldn't be! There must have been at least a little bit of water damage, somewhere, perhaps inside. But no matter how diligently he looked, he could find none, not even so much as a patch of mud.
He stood straight and shuddered again. Asutet...she'd been right. Her prediction. Even as half of him recoiled at the very thought of what she'd told him, the other half felt relief that no one else had heard of their conversation. He would never be able to explain this!
* * * * *
The next day the villagers were out and about, chattering about the strange occurrence of the night before. All except the lord, that is. He sat in his room still, brooding over what had happened in his head. If Asutet...mere Asutet, a simple servant girl, could do something like that, who knew what else she could and would do! Perhaps he'd been foolish going after her after all--when he'd claimed she was a witch, he'd had no idea it might actually be true!
Cursing his bad luck, he tried to still his nerves by getting up and leaving his rooms, deciding to visit his garden, where he could be alone to think. He exited the building, but when he reached the garden he found his plans foiled yet again. Asutet was waiting for him there.
He stopped abruptly and gaped at her with shock. "What--what are you doing here?" he cried.
"Giving you one last warning, and one last chance," she replied, her voice as neutral as ever. "You didn't heed my advice the last time. But I'll give you one more opportunity to do so. Only this time if you fail, you will not be so fortunate."
"What do you plan to do--witch?" He spat this last word out with contempt, which barely disguised his fear.
"Confess to the villagers," Asutet said. "Tell them I'm innocent of that which you accused me of. That it was truly you who tried to attack me. And accept me back as a servant of the household. If you do not, the river will flood yet again--yet no one within the village will be touched by the water but he who is truly guilty."
The lord's lip curled back with disgust. "And how do you plan on doing that? That's impossible! Even should you somehow make the impossible happen, the villagers will never know anyway what this means!"
"Are you so certain?" Asutet inquired, before vanishing into thin air.
He blinked at the empty spot where she had just stood. Had he imagined the whole thing? Had his nerves merely concocted her image? A noise behind him caught his attention, and he whirled around, expecting to see her there--but instead he saw only the servant who had awoken him last night, staring at him with amazement. The look on the young man's face told him the truth--he'd seen everything.
He scowled and took a step toward the servant, raising one fist. "You saw nothing," he threatened.
But the servant shook his head. "I...I saw too much," he whispered. "And this can't be kept secret forever!"
The lord advanced on him with a warning look, but the servant was too quick for him and dashed from the garden. By the time the lord got to the main hall he was gone, doubtlessly off to tell his story. What cursed luck was this!
He stood panting and staring out the door, fists clenching and unclenching. His wife came up and took his arm. He looked at her and could tell that the young man had spoken with her already. The look in her eyes was pained, confused. He cringed; what would she be thinking--?
"It's not--it's not true, is it?" she asked softly, giving him a pleading look.
A twinge of fear flickered through him, but he shook it off. "Of course not!" he snapped. "What that fool said is true--Asutet did appear to me and talked of the river--but that just proves that she's a witch and always has been! As for the flood--pah! Nothing like that could ever happen! Stop being so gullible!"
She let out her breath and her shoulders relaxed. She nodded and let go of his arm. "You're right...of course. I'll tell the others to stop their panicking."
"No," he said, and she stopped and looked back at him. "I'll tell them. Then they'll have nothing to fear, and no excuses for acting stupidly. That will prove once and for all that Asutet is a witch and I am innocent!"
So saying, he left his wife behind and stalked off. His mind still rambled with a will of its own that he couldn't suppress, no matter how hard he tried.
I only hope the REST of them are as gullible as she!
* * * * *
Hapi showed Asutet, when she arrived back at the river, what was happening in her village by waving his hand over the water. Together they watched as the lord spoke with his servant and then the villagers, and Asutet was appalled that he could keep telling his lie for so very long, even after what had happened already. Hapi waved the image away and told her not to worry.
"It will be as I've said," he assured her. "And this time there will be no denying that you are innocent, and that he is the one who is guilty...of more crimes than one!"
Asutet took his word for it. After all, he was a god, wasn't he?
* * * * *
Nightfall came once more, the village silent under darkness. Everyone slept, albeit some in unease. Their anxiety was not great enough to keep them awake pondering, as what their lord had told them earlier made sense. What reason had they to distrust him? Only a witch could control the river like that; he had been wise to banish her. But even the most powerful witch, surely, couldn't do as Asutet had threatened to do. It simply wasn't possible. And so they slumbered. Even the lord, within his high safe house.
In the dead quiet of the night something dark seeped into the village. It avoided all of the houses to the sides, heading instead straight up the main avenue for the biggest household atop the hill. When it reached its destination it crept up the whitewashed sides, making them glisten in the moonlight. It didn't stop there. It slithered inside, slipping around corners, searching for a certain room. When it found it, it seeped under the door, and then...strangely...that room, and that room only, started to flood.
The lord was lost in not-too-restful dreams and so noticed nothing. His unconscious mind dealt with what Asutet had told him. What if she could control the water...like she'd said she could? No...it couldn't happen. It wouldn't happen. He mustn't think like the villagers, nor succumb to their superstitious worrying. There had been far too much of that already; it grated on his nerves, made him too uneasy. He couldn't let it get to him. He couldn't help it that the girl was such a nuisance; it was hardly his fault she hadn't wished to comply.
He awoke with a gasp. Something cold had been touching his feet. He quickly lit a lamp and looked around him.
Every servant, guard, and other person within the household awoke to the sound of a bloodcurdling scream coming from deep within the building. The lord's wife jumped out of bed and hurried from the harem, along with several others, toward her husband's quarters to see what was wrong. It was only when they entered the hallway leading to his rooms that they all stopped with a collective gasp.
A long trail of water was leading down the hall, directly to the lord's room, where it curved sharply and crept in underneath the door like some dark glistening snake. It still flowed, fresh and full of life and cruel intent.
The lady of the household ran to the door and started pounding on it. "Husband! My Lord! Are you awake? What's happening in there--?"
The lord, within, was too terrified to coherently answer. He clung to his bed, attempting to escape the water that rose threateningly all around him. It sucked the bed under and he was thrown in. At any other time, he was an excellent swimmer; now, however, the water wrapped itself around his legs and started dragging him down.
Those outside the door were pounding on it, trying to force it open. It finally broke in and they started to enter, only to stop again. A wall of water standing upright upon its side greeted them!
The wife screamed.
"Help me!!" the lord gasped, trying to keep his head above the water. He sputtered and gasped. "Help--me--!"
He paddled furiously with his arms, but the liquid only wrapped around them, pinning them to his sides. He couldn't move! He was sinking! He opened his mouth and bubbles rose to the surface as he started to struggle. The water squeezed against his ribs.
Confess, it whispered in his ear. His eyes opened wide. He couldn't believe what he'd just heard. Confess!
His head broke the surface and he coughed and spat. "I--didn't--do anything!" he howled. But the river only responded by tugging on him harder. He sank again, to his chest, his shoulders, his neck, his chin--
"All right!" he finally cried. "I did it! I was the one who attacked Asutet. She never bewitched me. It was I who attacked her!"
For all to hear! the river hissed.
"I did it! I attacked Asutet!" the lord shrieked, trying to hold his head up.
He felt himself go under anyway, and lost all hope of surviving. He closed his eyes and waited for his lungs to fill. But the water unwrapped itself from around him, letting his arms and legs free. The level in the room lowered as it crept down the walls, revealing dripping furnishings; it started to slither away from the room in a thick stream, out the hallway and back to the river itself. Now remember, the water whispered, as it disappeared from the room, leaving him on the floor, dazed, wet, and confused.
He coughed for a moment and shook his head, wiping droplets from his brow. He looked up, then immediately wished he hadn't. In the doorway he could see his servants, his guards, and...worst of all...his wife, all staring at him with wide eyes and open mouths, as they had the first time they'd caught him. He turned his head and saw, outside the opposite window, some of the villagers gathered around, peering inside and muttering.
Everyone had heard!
He tried to stand, slipping in a puddle, and held out his hands in a helpless gesture. "I can explain--"
But they all backed away. "Don't even try," his wife said in a voice that was soft yet full of knives.
He continued toward her, desperate. "Just give me a chance--"
One of the servants--the same one who had heard him speaking with Asutet before--shook his head. "You've had too many chances," he said, gaining the others' attention. "And you've missed them all!"
The lord clenched his fist at him. "You keep your mouth shut! I never knew--"
"You knew long enough," the servant interrupted him. He turned to the lady of the household. "My Lady...he lies. He knew all along what he was doing, from the very start, and tossed that poor woman from the house anyway! It's because of what he tried to do to Asutet, and what he didn't do for Lord Hapi." He pointed an accusing finger at the lord now and raised his voice. "You forgot about his altar! You forgot your place here! Because of that he's gotten his revenge through Asutet!"
"She as well," the lady said, and gave her husband a venomous look. "She too has been avenged. Rightfully so! If I had known I would have done it myself!"
"Liar! Sinner!" several of the villagers outside the window shouted. The cry was taken up and only grew louder as more and more began to repeat it, raising their arms and shaking their fists. "Because of you our village nearly drowned! Because of you! Because of you!"
"Leave here," the lady hissed. "Leave and never come back."
The lord threw up his hands. All of this...all of this trouble because of her! Because of that lowly servant Asutet! His fingers tightened and he tried to explain once more, feeling his chances fast slipping away.
"Leave!" his wife ordered, jabbing her finger at the hallway, toward the entrance--and exit. "Before I have you whipped out!"
He was surrounded, and all eyes stared at him with hate. There was nothing he could do but obey, and as he fled his own household, leering insults tossed after him like barbs, he wished he'd never even set eyes on Asutet.
* * * * *
The lady of the house--now the head of the household--asked for Asutet's forgiveness when the young woman visited the village the next day to see how the people were, and offered her her position back. Asutet smiled kindly--something seemed different about her smile, now, as if she were no longer so naive as she'd once been--but she refused the offer, startling the lady.
"I have somewhere else I must go now," she said. "Something else in mind."
"Are you certain you don't wish to come back?" the lady asked. "I can never apologize enough for how I treated you...it is simply unforgivable. I wish I had not been so blind. I shall forever be guilty of this."
Asutet's eyes softened. "Please, do not feel guilty. One alone was guilty of all of this. I wished only for the truth to be known, for my name to be cleared." She paused. "And I apologize myself...yet I cannot stay. Even though I had planned it, now my plans have changed...there is somewhere else I must go."
The lady tilted her head with a mildly anxious look. "Are you really...I mean, this is so difficult to ask...but could you really be...?"
Asutet smiled. "No...I'm not a witch. I merely had some...assistance, if you understand what I mean." She glanced over her shoulder, back at the river, and the lady's eyes grew a bit as she began to comprehend. Asutet turned and walked away, toward the water. "Goodbye, and thank you."
"Good--goodbye!" the lady stammered in response, waving until Asutet had disappeared into the distance.
* * * * *
It was not long later that Asutet reached the river, not far from the papyrus thicket she had been staying in. Hapi floated within the water, arms crossed and waiting to hear of what had transpired. Asutet stepped down to the water's edge and beamed at him.
"It worked," she said, and couldn't keep the exuberance from her voice. She clasped her hands and laughed. "It really worked! He confessed, just as you said he would!"
The corner of his mouth twitched. "I felt it would. Persuasion has a way of making people do as you wish." He frowned. "The other little matter we discussed?"
"Oh. Apologies--I forgot." She unclasped her hands and straightened herself, attempting to look more dignified. "He is now out of the picture...and so the lady of the house will see to making certain that offerings are always placed upon your altar in timely fashion. Please believe me. It will never go bare again!"
The river god relaxed slightly and nodded. "Good...I grow tired of these mortals always forgetting." He paused and gave her a look. "You do not mention your position within the household. There was a problem with this?"
"Oh--no," Asutet hastened to reply. She clasped her hands again. "There was no problem. The lady offered me my position back."
"But...I refused to accept it."
His brow furrowed. "You apparently had a reason for this?"
She looked down at the ground and the color rose in her cheeks. "I...yes, I had a reason...I had thought I might find a better place to go, hopefully where I'm more wanted..."
The reeds rustled. The servant from the household parted them and peered out, his curiosity overwhelming him. He'd followed Asutet down to the river to see exactly what she'd been speaking of when she'd talked with the lady, and now saw that she stood before the river, the god of that body of water looking up at her as he floated within it. He gasped and ducked, but didn't look away. The god! She was speaking with the god of the river. She was no witch after all--her power apparently ran much greater than that!
As if to verify his thought, the river god cocked his head, looked Asutet briefly up and down, and then smiled up at her. He said something, which sounded like a question, and Asutet nodded quickly. He then held out his hand to her, and after a mere moment's hesitation she reached out and took it.
She stepped one foot into the river, and waded in as Hapi backed away, drawing her forward by the hand. They descended into deeper water and after a moment the god plunged his head beneath the surface, vanishing. The woman took a breath, closed her eyes, and submerged as well...leaving nothing but a ripple in the water to show that they had ever been there.
There are those who say it was the altar offerings that made the river happy; yet there are also those who believe it was the greater offering that ended all their troubles. Whichever the case, the river never flooded the streets a second time, nor was Asutet ever seen in the small village again.
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