Guardian of the Underworld – Chapter One

I am falling. Down. Down. The light is murky. My chest hurts.

I am holding my breath.

I am not falling. I am sinking.

The water envelopes me. It is cold. I can’t hold my breath for much longer. I cradle my belly and regret that my child will never know her father.

I woke with tears in my ears and a sob in my throat. I had experienced this event before. Maybe many times, but as always, by the time I was awake enough to wonder whether it was a dream or a memory, the image faded like waves rushing away from the shore.

The soft rocking of the boat against the current soon sent me back to sleep. For a time my sleep was peaceful. Dreamless. Then an image appeared. A scarab beetle. Solid black and burned into flesh. Blood dripped from its edges.

I woke, my heart pounding. What did it mean? I had never seen such a thing. But the night was late and I was tired after a long day of travel. Soon I fell asleep again.

When I next woke, the night was still dark but the birds already sang their morning songs in anticipation of dawn. The boat rocked gently although we were moored close to the bank of the Great River and out of the current’s grasp. Guards stood at each end of the boat, their spears just as much a part of their silhouette against the moonlit sky as their limbs.

I searched the sky. Did my father and my brother watch over this next stage of my journey as I travelled from Memphis back to the island of Crete? Back to the underworld where we intended to try to retrieve Intef from the domain of Keeper of the Lake. But the sky was full of stars tonight and if my loved ones were up there, I couldn’t tell.

From the other end of the boat came soft snores that I didn’t recognise. I had travelled with Renni, Istnofret and Behenu for long enough to know the sounds of their sleep. The snorer could be Tuta or Sabu who had both decided to travel with us. Or it could be one of ten other men, as we had brought a full squad to guard us until we stepped onto the boat that would take us from Rhakotis to Crete. There were too many loose ends left here in Egypt. Too many men who might want to stop me. We weren’t taking any chances with our safety this time.

The snoring stopped abruptly and blankets rustled as someone — presumably the snorer — rolled over. I pulled my own blanket up higher and closed my eyes, determined to get a little more sleep before the sun rose and we resumed our journey.

No sooner had I fallen asleep than the dreams returned. A confusing montage of images. Intef, Osiris, Keeper of the Lake. A young girl who displayed no emotion as Intef cried. Running through darkness with only a lamp for light, hot breath on my neck, fear coursing through my veins. The knowledge that we were being chased. No, hunted. Be careful of the jackal. He is a trickster. The blood-dripping scarab. I sank into deep water.

And woke with a gasp, choking as I tried to breathe, still not quite certain that it was air rather than water that filled my lungs. I tried to hang onto the images, to not let them slip away. Especially the one in which I drowned. There was significance in that. I had to hold on to the memory long enough to understand it. But as they always did, the images slipped away and by the time I was properly awake, they were gone.

The only image that stayed with me was the girl who stared stoically at Intef. I had long guessed she was our daughter, Meketaten. The one I had given to Osiris as payment for the Eye. She looked so much like the sister I had named her for that I would have recognised her anywhere. But she also had an other-worldly quality to her, something that suggested she wasn’t quite of the mortal realm.

Did my dreaming of her mean that we would encounter her? I hardly allowed myself to think such a thing and I certainly didn’t let myself hope for it. She was the price I had paid and there was not the slightest doubt in my mind that Osiris would never give her up, but perhaps I would see her. Maybe even speak with her. I would be satisfied with that.

As for Intef, his agreement to stay was made with Keeper of the Lake, a minor deity at best. Surely we could find a way to convince Keeper to release him. I had to believe it. There was no other option. We couldn’t leave him there forever.


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