With the last hieroglyph finished, Wati set aside the scroll he had been working on. He closed The Book of the Dead and ran his hands along the cover. Despite the fact he wrote these words on a regular basis, never had it been so hard. Ra had long since disappeared for his usual voyage, and the wick of his lamp was nearly burnt to the end. As the flame died its orange glow was replaced by the ghostly light of the moon filtering through the linens that covered the windows and door of his small hut.
On either side of the doorway, stood the shadows of two pots. It had been many days since Tiankhit had left him, but still the barley continued to grow. Wati had so hoped for the emmer wheat to sprout first. Like all men, he wanted a son, but had come to love the idea of his daughter just as much. They were overjoyed when the first leaves pressed their way up through the dirt to tell them the news of their child, and the days passed with excitement as they waited to see if they grew to be barley or wheat.
Wati tore his gaze from the silhouette and made his way over to the bed. Under his feet the ground alternated between cool reed mats and the still cooler dirt that lay beneath. Another night of restless sleep was all that waited for him now, and Wati embraced its call.
It must have been hours that he slept, for now the disk of the moon shown more brightly through the other window, its crisp beam of light falling on the Utchat that hung above the door for protection. The cool breeze was surely what roused him, or perhaps it had been a dream. Wati scanned the room. It was hardly big enough for one, and yet it felt so empty without her there.
A shadow passed across his face and he looked over to the window. There, framed by white mud brick sat the shape of a cat, its head held high and proud. Wati sat up running the back of his hands over his eyes so he could see the feline more clearly. He watched as it moved towards the edge of the window, the linen rustling as it pushed past and took in the small room. Once the creature assessed that it was in the right place, it leapt from the window.
Wati saw the shape of the cat change, its hind legs curling up underneath it and elongating, the paws spreading into hands and feet that landed silently on the ground. Her face stayed feline, adorned with gold and silver, red robes flowing down over her shoulders, and piercing green eyes that were like a watery reflection in the moonlight.
As she moved closer towards Wati he noticed the grace and silence of her movement. Each step was so soft that not a grain of sand was disturbed, robes so light that that no dust clung to them. Even the jewels around her neck and the bangles on her arms were silent.
"Bast?" His mouth formed the word but his breath stayed the sound. Her thin feline lips curved into a slight smile and she leaned down to pick something up off of the ground. Elegant fingers traced the image carved into the amulet before she held it out to him, but Wati stared, transfixed by the Goddess before him.
"Your wife, my priestess," she said. Her voice was soft and feminine, the sounds rolling off her tongue as a cross between a purr and a growl, undercut with a silent chorus of angry yowls. "Murdered and with child, two of my daughters slain by one hand."
Wati looked down as she pressed the amulet into his hand. He had seen it many times before as it hung from the neck of his Tiankhit. The mother cat and her kittens shimmered by the light of the moon, but when he looked up into the eyes of the Goddess their reflection was alive. The kittens climbed over one another to reach their mother's milk; small legs not even able to hold their tiny bodies up off the ground. As Wati's eyes shifted back to the amulet the graven image was still, the dancing moonlight a mockery of the life he had seen in the eyes of Bast.
"Find the cretin responsible for this atrocity and by your hand condemn him. Let his heart weigh heavy in the eyes of Anubis; let his blood stain the lips of Ammit."
Before Wati had any chance to respond she was nothing but the smoky image of a cat riding out the window on a cool breeze that once again filled the room. All that was left was the sound of a mournful mewl echoing in his ears.
The light of Ra glinted off the amulet still clasped in Wati's hand; his tired eyes squinting to see it despite the long hours it had spent beneath his gaze. At last he stood wrapping the fine linen of his kilt around his waist. With another glance at the feline family he twisted the rope around the cloth so that it too hung from his hip. The words of Bast continued to weave themselves through his mind as he took the scroll and slipped past the curtain on the door.
Already the heat was fierce and the white buildings of Bubastis were blindingly lit by Ra. Wati made his way through the city, tracing along the familiar path that would lead him to the temple of Bast. She had given him her command, but what did a scribe know about avenging the Gods? Each step he took towards the man-made island brought more thoughts to the front of his mind. It had been more than sixty days since her feet had last tread these roads, but to his eyes, each footprint could have been that of the priestess Tiankhit.
The farther he walked the more the sounds of the city met his ears. Farmers and artisans showed their goods, and the people were filled with song and drink for the festival to come. It was hard not to get caught up in the joys of the people, and Wati was nearly singing with them by the time the temple came into view.
The water around it shimmered its own dance to the music of Bubastis, the leaves of the grove that lined the trail rustled like a drum beat to the whistle of the wind. The building rose high into the air, white walls like pearls in the gleam of Ra. Even before Wati set foot in the temple the aroma of incense had already cleansed his mind, and his steps were light like those of a cat at play.
His first step inside the temple Wati nearly tripped over one of the many cats that wound its way between his legs. Their meows filled the hall, a song of their own by any definition. The elegant creatures were perched on the smallest ledges and the most precarious perches. In the center of the room stood a huge statue of Bast and the way the many felines moved across the stone made her appear to have a skin of constantly flowing fur and ever changing color.
The priestesses who were draped in red linens served the offerings of the people to the sacred animals, their every movement a sensual dance as they spun themselves across the floor and off into various side rooms. This was what Tiankhit had done, and even when they were alone together he could still see the grace in her movements that dictated her life in service of Bast.
"Wati." He turned to see one of the eldest women who not only worked but lived in the temple as well.
"Banafrit, the Gods must smile upon you, for you appear in perfect health."
The woman's lips twisted upwards making her lightly wrinkled skin stand out. "Tell me child, what brings you here today?"
"Two things, dear lady." He held out the scroll in his hand. Banafrit took it and held it close to her chest.
"The Book of the Dead?"
"Yes. It's for… the burial."
She nodded almost imperceptibly save for the swaying of her hair. "And what else weighs your mind?"
"I wanted to ask if I could see… the place she was killed." Wati felt his breath catch in his chest for a moment as her eyes seemed to peer past his flesh. He almost missed her curt nod before she turned and walked off to one of the rooms that led away from the main hall.
She stopped in front of a door and waved her hand for him to continue on. "Kebi will answer your questions."
He was reluctant to cross the threshold and enter the room. Wati knew that his wife was gone, but he felt as if seeing the place where her life left her would make it much more real. Before he set foot in the room he took a moment to look around.
He had been led to the room where sacrificial offerings were made. The cat was a sacred animal and the temple was full of them, but in order to keep them healthy litters of kittens would occasionally be culled in hopes that Bast would continue to protect their city. The altar stood at the far side of the room and Kebi was positioned on her knees in front of it. Wati noted the way her black hair fell in waves down her shoulders, accented by beads and red strips of linen that had been tied into it. From the back she looked remarkably like Tiankhit, and for a moment he almost believed it was she who was kneeling there.
As he took his first step into the room several cats swept by, the sound of their purring amplified by their numbers. They ran over to the priestess and rubbed their sleek bodies against her. Kebi turned and stood, letting her hands linger on their soft fur. She smiled inquisitively at Wati and waited for him to speak, though it took a moment to draw his mind away from the images of his lost Tiankhit.
"This is where-?" He couldn't bring himself to finish saying it, and he wasn't even sure that those words had managed to leave his mouth. Whether they did or not the young woman smiled. Wati still hesitated to take that first step into the room but soft furry noses were pressing at his calves. The words of Bast rang through his ears, and with a deep breath he let her children push him into the room.
Kebi motioned to a place just in front of the altar. It was not what he was expecting to see, but then what was he expecting to see? Perhaps he expected to see blood staining the stone floors, or an outline of where she had lay. There was nothing though, save for a blank expanse of stone that masqueraded itself as if it were no different than any other part of the temple floor.
"I was the one who found her." Kebi's voice was soft and sad, but still her eyes sparkled with love for the Goddess. Wati nodded, unable to speak for the tightness in his chest.
"I came to the temple with Ra, and the cries of mourning met my ears. The children of Bast led me to this room. That was when I saw her," the woman slid gracefully onto her knees and laid a hand on the cold stone, the other pressed to her breast. "She was here, surrounded by our brothers and sisters who tread the room with deep growls in their throats and tears in their eyes as they kissed her hand."
"How… Could you tell what had happened?"
Kebi's hand slid up to grasp her throat as she spoke. "She bled with unbroken flesh, a call for help still lingering upon her lips."
"Might I be alone?"
The girl stared at him with confusion. "We are never alone, forever with our Goddess and brethren until we join Osiris in the afterlife."
"Alone in this room." She frowned and left, her light footfalls still showing her malcontent.
"I didn't mean to be so short with her," he said to one of the cats. It batted its green eyes at him. "It was clear what I meant!" Again the cat blinked.
Where was he supposed to start? Surely the Goddess would not have given him a task with no guide. His fingers traced the grooves between the slabs of rock, searching for some indication that he was fulfilling her command. Row by row he followed the dirt lines until at last the cold stone gave way to cold metal.
Looking down Wati saw two small golden pieces, one end on each rough as if it had been broken, the other smooth and clean. The little strings of gold had to mean something, but Wati did not know what, and so he continued to search.
He made his way through the entirety of the room before at last he found himself sitting next to the altar, his head resting on the short wall that surrounded it. His eyes stung with the effort of straining to see even the most insignificant detail, and still they managed to fall upon something out of place. There in the ashes of incense that surrounded the altar was the imprint of a hieroglyph. It appeared to depict a hawk and a serpent, though it was difficult to tell as part of the impression had been disturbed. Which man marked himself with a hawk and a serpent?
Lost in thought and trying to recall the sign of every man he had ever seen Wati left the temple. His ears were deaf to the farewells of the priestesses and to the chirring of the cats. He did not even stop to acknowledge Banafrit when she asked if he found that which he was seeking.
He was exhausted as he spent the day scribing records for various farmers of their inventories and their profits. By the time Wati made it back to his small house he found himself debating if he wanted to eat or just go straight to bed. He climbed the stone stairs that led to the roof and glanced around. There was a single piece of bread left and Wati wrapped it around some figs and bit into it. He washed it down with a long drink and stumbled his way back downstairs to collapse into bed.
He woke again when Ra brushed his face and tried to recall if the events of yesterday had been a dream or real. Once he noticed the amulet that still hung from his kilt he was sure that he had not imagined it. It was a hot day but the cold winds of the desert were sweeping through the city as he made his way to the north side of the f the boarders. At that far end there stood a cliff, many feet high and marked with thousands of holes that served as the tombs of some of the city's many cats.
Many people had already arrived at the stone that marked the final resting place of Tiankhit's body. She had already been laid in the small tomb, several statues of Bast alongside her and the four sons of Horus guarding her organs in their canopic jars. Even many of his friends and family had made the three day journey from Giza to be there.
His parents embraced him and offered their kind words, as did his friends of old. His childhood playmate Odji had brought along his wife and the two spent their time catching up until Ra was high above them. It was only then that Wati caught a glimpse of the rings that adored Odji's hands. His seal bore the glyph of a hawk and serpent, and his protective scarab was missing two of its finely wrought golden legs.
For days Wati toiled over his past. What signs he had pointed to Odji, but why would his once dear friend take his wife? He wished not to believe it, but the circular argument in his head always led back to the same place, two years ago when he and Odji had both been suitors of the desirable priestess Tiankhit. Odji was married though, why would he act out against her?
Wati thought back to the days when he and Odji had vied for the hand of Tiankhit and he recalled how her parents had longed for the dowry that would come from her marriage to Odji. He had less to offer than his friend did, but still his heart yearned for the young girl. Ultimately it was Tiankhit who made the decision, determined that love was a better reward than wealth.
Anger seeped through his mind as he paced the floors of his hut. This man, who had dared to call himself friend, was the cretin who took his Tiankhit from him. Wati never remembered making the decision to leave; in his mind the decision had already been made. He took the Utchat down from the door and hung it from his neck to protect him on his travel, and shoes in hand he set out on the road for Giza, the hot sands of the desert cutting into his feet.
In the three days it took to travel the distance Wati's anger had swelled to the point of hatred. The very thought of Odji made him ill, and his dreams were filled with the pleasures of avenging Bast. Ra was just leaving for the night when he arrived in Giza and a distant wind arced the sands into a crest above the 3 massive pyramids that marked the landscape of the city. Nightfall. This was the realm of Bast, as wild and unpredictable as she was, both protector and hunter. Good, by the hand of Bast he had been led to this moment, and by her will he would send Odji to face Anubis and weigh his heart against the feather of Ma'at.
It had been many years since the last time he had been in Giza, but still he knew his way between all the temples and around the huts and markets to the secluded piece of land that Odji called home. Wati watched and waited, eager to see the orange glow of the lamp go dim in the windows, and then he stirred. He toppled earthenware dishes and knocked over chairs, creating a path that would look as if a thief had been there.
When Odji came out to investigate the cause and search for the crook Wati pounced. He knocked Odji from behind, hitting him in the knees and felling him to the ground, and Wati easily held him there with a dagger to his throat.
"Why?" He had wanted his voice to sound harsh and menacing, but to his own ears it was a plea. A plea to have her back and a plea to know he had not been betrayed by his best friend.
"Because you never deserved her." Odji's voice was strained by the sharp angle at which Wati held his head, and a note of bitter resentment was all too clear. "You took her with nothing to offer but yourself and left me to a barren whore. Tiankhit should have been mine, and so should the child growing within her. Neither was ever meant to be yours, and so I took them. I told you I would have her in the end."
Wati had heard more than enough, and the tears of betrayal and loss stung his eyes as his dagger slid across Odji's throat, making it yawn into the desert sands. His hands shook and he dropped the dagger beside his prey. The command of Bast had been fulfilled, and the life of Tiankhit avenged.
When Ra rose only a couple of hours later, he woke to find Wati sitting with his back against a merchant's stand, his eyes locked on that of a dark cat perched on the paw of the sphinx.