It is nighttime again, and bitter cold.
I huddled against the chill of the night under a thin sack that served as my blanket. The coarse texture scratched my skin, but I merely brushed a hand at the irritation and shrugged deeper into the slight warmth my own body provided. Beneath the scents of dirt and sweat, there is a faint reminder of my mother in the blanket, something at once comforting and painful.
She passed many seasons ago, when I was still young and my body had not yet begun to curve. Nothing and everything changed the day she passed. I still sleep on the streets, still steal to survive. I find shelter in abandoned buildings and pass my nights with fitful dreams of ivory towers. These dreams have long been a part of my nights, and my mother would simply sigh and look away when I told her the next morning. Only her sighs, her exhausted blue eyes and the warmth of her embrace are gone from my days.
I turn over and nestle with my back against the wall. I hate the winter season; the nighttime temperature drops dangerously low, and sometimes even during the day, the sun will not warm our city until it has past the midday mark. This season has been especially frigid and long. Even though the planting has begun in small gardens throughout the city, the chill has not let go of the land.
Despite the icy air around me, slumber begins to steal around the edges of my consciousness. One last sigh and I slip off into another dream.
The sounds of the market outside waken me, though slowly. I fight the last bonds of sleep away and rub my eyes; as soon as I see my dirt covered fists however, I immediately regret the action. I have no mirror but instinct tells me that brown smudges ring my eyes. I cannot remember my last bath, so perhaps they don't stand out as much as I think they do.
My stomach rumbles and I move from one basic need to the next. Rest accomplished, I must now find food. Finding food is usually synonymous with begging, and if not begging, then stealing. I have slept in the poorer section of town however, and I know scraps will be few and far between. The poor never have enough left over to feed anyone but their own families. The market then, and perhaps after that, crossing the city to a richer district. I might beg for a coin or dinner there.
The market is bustling; the sun appears about a quarter way through the sky. Despite the fairly early hour, the heat rises up from the hard packed dirt under my feet. I shiver slightly, for the air has a queer feeling. Maybe a storm is brewing. Re knows that we have yet to see rain. Despite my unease, I scout the market and note a vendor in deep conversation with the vendor of the booth next to him. A few moments later, he is a handful of dates lighter and none the wiser; I am walking briskly toward the rich part of town.
Hours pass, and I have had no luck. I am dusty, parched, and my stomach is rumbling again. Not a single coin, nor a lone crust of bread. I kick at a stubborn patch of grass that lingers in the alley, venting my frustration, but the exertion makes my head swim. I know of a well a few streets away, and decide water is necessary.
The crack of thunder takes me by surprise, and I nearly drop the bucket. It has been so long since I have heard a storm. The water fills the cracks in my mouth and throat, the flesh swells back into place. Hurriedly, I swallow another dipper-full, then head toward the docks. There are plenty of empty buildings, and some even store stacks of grains or flour. I can shelter there for the storm, and perhaps find a meal.
The rain begins to fall as I near the warehouses. Slow at first, then as if the gods themselves were armed with buckets, in sheets. Seconds after I am soaked through to my skin, the sack-like sheath I wear hanging heavy about my arms and knees. I stop, and recognize that I don't know where I am at; I had thought I was near the docks. Far away, I hear a sharp crack followed by a deep rumbling that shakes the earth beneath me. Thunder, I think, but the rumbling grows into a louder rushing. The sound of water falling over itself and everything in its path to be free.
In the brief moment I have stopped, the water has begun to pool about my feet. Cold liquid sucks at the hollow of my ankles, rising faster and faster. I begin to slog through the flash flood, and slosh through an alleyway into a greater open space.
Before me lay the docks and below them, the river. Chunks of wood and debris were whisked downstream by the current. Never had I seen the river in such a fury as it was now. I knew that I had to think quickly... if the dam upriver had indeed broken, then I had only a moment or two before water would flood the lake and then the city surrounding it. How high, I could not know, but I breathed deeply, and went through my mental map of the city. What was on high enough ground that the building would not flood?
"The temple!" I began to sprint through the already pooling water. The temple of Ptah, dedicated to the great caller of the earth, was one of the highest structures this close to the lake. I had passed by more than once, and when I could, left offerings in the name of the god. A great stair led up the front of the building, and surely the water would not rise that high. And the priests would not turn me away with the deluge outside?
The blocks around me were eerily quiet under the pounding of the rain, and I was sure a shiver would have crawled down my spine if I had paused for a moment. Behind me, I heard the constant rush of water falling over itself to spread further out. Over that came the occasional crash resulting from debris meeting an obstacle that it could not pass. By now, the water lapped at my knees. Running was practically impossible; I rucked my skirt up around my thighs and slogged forward.
After a few more blocks, the temple came into view. Built of pale stone from far off in the hills, the gray light from the storm cast a sort of pearly glow. Before the temple was a central plaza, where crowds would gather and hear proclamations from the palace, read by temple priests. I knew that there were stairs to the plaza, but didn't realize that I was upon them until I stumbled forward.
I didn't fall immediately; instead, I put a foot ahead and felt a searing pain radiate up my leg. I fell even farther forward, and this time entered the water. I pulled myself up quickly, cursing inwardly as I saw a dark bloom beneath the water's surface. I had stepped on something to injure my foot, obviously, but how badly... I bit my lip and tried to take another step. When I went to put weight on my bleeding foot, I couldn't help but let out a cry.
A strong current brought a branch hurtling into my ribs, and with that, I fell once more into the water. But even as I fought to find the surface, I couldn't regain my footing and the water tugged harder. I floundered, fighting the currents, but the cold certainty that accompanies near death weighed me down like a stone. Anubis could not be coming for me so soon, and yet I had lived far longer than I had thought on the streets. As I breathed water in, I prayed to the gods above, knowing that my cries would not reach their ears. I was only a young girl, and had accomplished nothing in my life. Only the powerful and earthly divine reach directly to the gods.
Just as suddenly as the water had filled my lungs, I tried to breathe again and air met my lips. All the liquid that I had swallowed rushed back up and I choked, brown water spilling forth. I coughed harder, and felt my stomach lurch. As I began to breathe normally again, I became aware of hands pulling me up, hoisting me high in the air. Rain pelted my skin again, but I inhaled the moist air with growing relief. I was being rescued. Perhaps the gods had heard me after all.
My rescuer carried me for only a moment before I felt our bodies rise; stairs appeared beneath his feet. We were at the temple steps, I guessed, and when we entered the great echoing hall, my assumptions proved true. Whatever spurred my savior to rescue me however, seemed to have disappeared with our exit from the rain. Without any warning, he pulled me back over his shoulder and dumped me unceremoniously onto a pile of cushions. I sat up and pulled the dark and sopping hair back from my eyes, peering curiously up at the young man before me.
Details became sharper as my eyes adjusted to the orange glow of torchlight. His own hair was dripping and obviously thick, dark and clinging to his forehead. A stern face, sharp nose, eyes of lapis that seemed to glow like embers. He was long and lean, but obviously muscular. The simple kilt he wore clung to his thighs and water dripped steadily from the hem. Even over the dull rumble of the storm outside, I could hear the plunk of each bead of water hitting the stone floor.
In the study of my hero, I sat frozen before him. Where had he come from? Even as he shook out his hair and then knelt before me, I could not force my limbs to move. It was only when I caught a glimpse of the puddle around my own feet that I shuddered; the water around my own feet was rosy red with the blood that flowed freely from my foot.
"Djed!" I jumped again. The man had his fingers around my foot, nimbly poking at the wound. Despite the nausea rising in my stomach, a peculiar feeling, almost a tingling, followed the man's fingertips across my ankle and foot.
"It's very deep," he muttered, to himself, I supposed. A young boy scampered in the room just then, and fell into a hasty bow before the man at my feet.
"Bandages, Djed. Fetch Isis as well." The man did not look away from my wound, but the boy fled the room in the same fashion in which he had entered.
The man released my foot and looked up at me. The full force of his eyes met me, and I was entranced. It was not unlike the snake charmers in the marketplace, that gazed so intently at the snakes before them and led them in an undulating dance.
"Thank you," I heard myself say, my voice husky. My throat smarted still from the water I had swallowed earlier. He dipped his head briefly in acknowledgment but didn't break eye contact.
"My name is Kisara." I spoke again, the words easier this time.
We both whipped around to our right. Djed, clutching an oversized basket to his skinny chest, was scrambling to keep up with perhaps the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her long black hair fanned like a cloak around her back. Long lashes framed emerald eyes that were wide with concern. In the sleek crown of her hair rested a diadem and on her elegant collarbones lay a matching choker; in the warm light of the chamber, it glinted ever so slightly, the Eye of Horus proudly displayed.
"Whatever happened?" Her voice was musically low pitched, but carried a note of alarm.
"She was caught in the storm, and obviously injured herself, Isis," Seth said, his own speech tinged with what I thought was annoyance.
Other than a small twist of her lips that confirmed Seth's apparent irritation, Isis kept her face impassive. Speaking to me, she grasped the offending foot and examined the wound.
"A bandage," she called, and Djed fished a white linen from the basket. I could not help but gasp slightly as she pressed the bandage firmly to the wound. "This will help staunch the blood," she explained, maintaining the pressure. An odd throbbing quickened in my veins but faded nearly as soon as it had appeared.
"Seth, if you will." Isis nodded at my foot and Seth took hold of the bandage, holding the linen tightly. Isis looked up at me, her green eyes still wide with concern, but a calm on her features that belied the severity of my injury. "What is your name?"
"I am Kisara," I answered simply.
"Kisara," she repeated, rolling the name around on her tongue. "That is a lovely name. Are you from Egypt then, or perhaps a northern country?"
"I was born here, but I have no knowledge of my aku," I replied honestly. For that much was true. My mother had plainly been of Egyptian descent but any question of my other ancestors was always deflected.
"A shame, for our ancestors are always a comfort," Isis said, a shadow crossing her brow. "Well, Kisara, your injury is deep but clean. I shall have to sew it, but it should heal quickly after that."
"Sew it?" I must have paled visibly, for Isis put a steadying hand on my shoulder.
"If the idea frightens you, I can give you a light sleeping draught," she said with a gentle smile. She seemed to generate a warmth, and though the idea of a needle piercing my skin like cloth was not a comforting one, I relaxed slightly under her touch.
"Seth," Isis turned to look at him, "if you will let me bind her foot, would you carry her to the guest chamber? I will send some food and drink up, and water to wash her foot."
Seth nodded in assent, and Isis quickly bound my foot with deft fingers. I watched in fascination as her long fingers wrapped and tied the linen bandages. I could feel the light scrape of her callouses against my skin and was strangely calmed.
Seth knelt and lifted me as though I were a child, then carried me silently into the darker hall from which Isis and Djed had emerged. I leaned my head against his shoulder, suddenly too exhausted to hold it upright. I felt a cool breeze and had a sense of green light before I shut my eyes to the world. I swear I was asleep before Seth laid me on the bed.
"Pharaoh?" Isis stirred from her meditations and inclined her head toward the figure in the doorway. "I was expecting you." His figure was blurred at the edges through the cloud of incense smoke.
"I'm sure you were, Isis," he answered wryly, and entered the chamber. As he knelt next to her, she caught a hint of amusement in his usually guarded face.
"Will you be staying the evening, Pharaoh?"
"Seth tells me it is too dangerous to journey back to the palace tonight. The passageways are still flooded and the streets as well. I sent several guards back on a bark, and have instructed the viziers to post the army in the streets as soon as the waters recede. Already they are half the depth they were. And of course the temples will offer double rations of grain for the immediate future." Pharaoh let out a sigh, and she could feel his muscles relax next to her. His shoulders were young ones to be burdened with such responsibility. It had only been crisis after catastrophe since his father's death a year ago, and Isis knew that Pharaoh cared deeply for his people.
"A wise decision," she said simply. "I fear there will be many casualties like young Kisara. Ptah and all the temples shall be readied for any wounded."
"Kisara?" Without looking, she knew that Pharaoh wore a look of consternation, complete with furrowed brow. He made an effort to know the names of the many priests and priestess, as well as the countless guards and servants who worked close to him. "Not one of your priestesses?"
Isis chose her words delicately. "No. She is a beggar, I believe. But such circumstances were beyond her control. Her kaa is most surprising. Despite her age, I sense that her kaa is as strong as my own. It would simply be a matter of tapping into it."
Pharaoh shifted next to her, suddenly tense. He turned to look at Isis, though she kept her face directed at the altar before her. The smoke stung at her eyes but she was quite used to the feeling. It seemed as natural as the air she required to breathe.
"Might I meet this girl?" His question was casual, but Isis read the intent beneath it clearly. "She might be this missing piece. Your prophesy-"
"She is resting," Isis interrupted, her voice brooking no argument. "Seth said she was asleep before he reached the room and she did not stir once while I stitched her foot." In a kinder tone, she added, "It was indeed fate that brought her to our door, and fate that Seth was there to rescue her as he did."
"Where is she now?"
"I have her resting in the Green Room. There will be time once the sun rises again and she wakes." Isis closed her eyes and murmured a quick prayer before rising. One by one, she snuffed out the candles, save one taper at the center of the altar.
"Were you scrying?"
Pharaoh rose beside her and fixed his violet eyes on her own emerald ones. The weak light that the single taper provided threw the hollows in his face into greater prominence.
"Did you see anything?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
"What was it?"
"Now is not the time." Isis smiled serenely, in a way she knew infuriated Pharaoh and the other priests not blessed with the Sight themselves. Best to take her secret pleasures as she could. "Worry not, Pharaoh, there is no ill wind blowing through Egypt now."
"How I pray for your peace of mind, Isis," Pharaoh replied, irritation faint in his tone.
"Allow me to show you to your room, Pharaoh." Knowing that he would not argue further, Isis gestured toward the door. But it was not a coincidence that the room she placed Pharaoh in shared a balcony with Kisara's room. Fate will take its course, Isis thought before shutting the door on her scrying chamber. The single candle in the room flickered, before plunging the room into darkness.