Leg Post 119 opens in the year 1246BC with Moses and his group walking across the Sinai Peninsula towards Mount Sinai so that Moses could talk to Yahweh. They speculate on who will become pharaoh after the death of Ozymandias, in Leg Post 117. Thirty-Four explains that the pharaoh had fifty children, but that many of them were stupid and are now dead. Balaam, who is Sauda in disguise, asserts that Son #4 was not an idiot, but confirms that he, too, is dead. Back in the past, Setne, who is Son #4, is with Hermes Trismegistus in their search for the Book of Thoth as they reach Umm El Qaʻāb. Hermes explains that he plans to join Egyptwarts, the school of magic, run by Isis, which he does in Leg Post 60. Hermes asks why they didn't search the Pyramid of Giza, and Setne explains that there is rumoured to be an evil spirit put there by an alien god; referring to Highemperor trapping his daughter, Indigo Shade, there, as explained in Pan Post 17 when she escapes. Hermes and Setne are threatened by a ten-year-old boy with a spear, but the boy is shocked into compliance when he discovers Setne is a prince of Egypt. He reveals he is the head priest for the necropolis after the other priests all sacrificed themselves trying to summon Osiris. He also reveals that Sauda is somewhere in the necropolis, such to Setne's concern. The boy, Bay, agress to guide them to the Temple of Osiris. Inside, they stumble upon a talking cow, though they wouldn't realise that this is Taliesin, who was turned into a cow in Leg Post 59. They found the grave of Djer, an ancient pharaoh, who was said to have the Book of Thoth last. As they read the inscriptions, they are unknowingly joined by another person who tells them that Sauda is in the tomb somewhere and that things are always being stolen from the old pharaohs and given to the tombs of the newer pharaohs. Bay is the only one to notice the new companion, until Hermes and Setne finally turn to look at the stranger. This would turn out to be the mummified Djer himself, in NeS1 Post 120.
Journey Through the Old Necropolis
1246BC, the middle of the year, the weather is hot and searing upon the heads of the Hebrew people as they made their way across the Sinai Peninsula towards Mount Sinai, where Yahweh had instructed Moses, leader of Hebrews, to meet with him.
While he was open to speak with everyone, there were a few people that seemed to be in his inner circle more than most. His sister, Miriam, who had practically raised him, was there. She was very old and slow, being much older than Moses himself, but her wits were not dulled by age at all. Her own children and her nephews were constantly running around to help her, and Moses. Moses’ own wife, Zipporah, was naturally a constant figure at his side, though she spent most of the time on donkey back as she was pregnant. Since she was older than usual for a pregnant woman, she had a lot of younger women attending her and being extremely careful to make sure she would come under zero stress, despite the long march.
Also, with him were two outsiders. The beautiful and mysterious woman that called herself Thirty-Four. Most recognised that she was of noble birth, but she had been incredibly eager to do almost any manual job that people ignored her breeding and accepted her as one of them – the downtrodden. What limited nurses they had in their ranks were constantly bandaging Thirty-Four’s hands because they were very sore and the skin was becoming raw from all the work they were not used to doing. Another enigmatic character was the black-skinned man with the fake beard. Everyone knew it was fake, but he insisted it was the most beautiful beard in the world so everyone just let him have his little fantasy. Some had thought he looked like a woman, but no woman would have a false beard, surely? Balaam was very smart and was quickly becoming the man to go to for advice on the terrain and geography of the area. Though some had tried to suggest that he be made an official lorekeeper, for some odd reason these plans never came to pass. Everyone just forgot they ever attempted to give him an official title. Balaam himself kept trying to make people leave him alone, but he couldn’t help but correct people and tell them what he knew, so most worked through his bitter and isolationist attitude to get the information out of him, eventually.
These people were walking together as they finally reached the base of Mount Sinai, which Moses recognised from his last trip here.
Miriam: “I am worried if the Egyptians will come after us…”
Miriam: “But the next pharaoh might want revenge for his father’s death? Who will be the next pharaoh anyway?”
Moses: “Probably his eldest son. I assume he did have sex at least sometimes, even if he hated women.”
Thirty-Four: “Breeding was what he thought women were essentially for, so yes. He has children. Many.”
Moses: “Wow! Really? Like three? Five?”
Moses: “Wow. Five kids!”
Thirty-Four: “And zero.”
Moses: “Uh… fifty!!?”
Thirty-Four: “Only thirty of them are legitimate, by his wives. The rest are concubines. Not that he would know. He couldn’t remember which were wives and which were concubines, that’s why we—I mean, they were all harem girls.”
Moses: “I don’t know if I’m impressed or horrified. Fifty! I don’t know if I could tell them all apart…”
Moses: “It’s not. So will Son #1 become king?”
Thirty-Four: “He’s dead.”
Moses: “Oh. That must have been sad for Ozy…”
Thirty-Four: “He was an idiot brat anyway.”
Moses: “Son #2…”
Thirty-Four: “Another dead idiot.”
Moses: “Son #3?”
Thirty-Four: “Dead idiot.”
Zipporah: “Good grief! They’re all dead and idiots? What about Son #7?”
Thirty-Four: “Dead idiot.”
Zipporah: “Son #10?”
Thirty-Four: “Dead idiot.”
Zipporah: “Bloody hell’s fire! Were they all idiots?”
Moses: “And are they all dead?”
Thirty-Four: “Pretty much!”
Balaam: “That’s not quite true. I remember one of them was… good. Decent. Son #4.”
Moses: “Oh, so the fourth lived? He’ll be pharaoh?”
Balaam: “No. He is dead. But he was no idiot…”
Hermes: “I was well paid for my last job. I helped the god Isis herself, you know?”
Setne’s eyes bulged.
Setne: “The—you’re joking with me, surely!”
Hermes: “No, indeed, I’m not! She told me she plans to open a school for magic, right here in Egypt, you know? I plan to attend classes. I’m sure a man like you could easily be admitted too! It does have a silly name though. Egyptwarts. I just don’t get the humour of these gods, at all.”
Setne: “Is it really just the gods with a penchant for silly names though? You do know there’s a temple of Tutankhamun called Temple-of-Nebkheperure-Beloved-of-Amun-Who-Puts-Thebes-in-Order!? And that’s with the exclamation mark.”
Hermes: “You might be right. Maybe it’s just me. Am I out of touch?”
Setne: “The older we get, the more out of touch we get. Just like our parents when we were young. Then again, my father was original born centuries ago, so it was even worse for me.”
Hermes: “Do you believe him when he says this?”
Setne: “I don’t see why not. Cynical are we?”
Hermes: “A little. I prefer to trust the things I can experience, rather than the words of others.”
Setne: “So what use is a magic book to you? Isn’t that just the words of others?”
Hermes: “They are just words. Until you test them.”
Setne: “Fair point!”
The two men had travelled south from Pi-Ramesses, along the Nile, towards Thebes. However, long before they reached that most famous of cities, they came to their destionation; Umm El Qaʻāb. Nicknamed, even now, “the mother of pots”. This was the necropolis for the most ancient of Egyptian pharaohs, dating over a thousand years ago. While pharaohs would now be buried in the Theban Necropolis, the rulers of the first dynasty, and earlier into the mists of time, were here.
The necropolis was built in a secluded land and the centuries left it blanketed in sand that gathered up around the tombs. They sought out one tomb in particular, commonly regarded as the Tomb of Osiris.
Pots lay strewn everywhere, as the necropolis had been poorly guarded against graverobbers. Those buried in the modern Theban Necropolis had much better traps and defences. Setne imagined at the unfortunates buried here must be very upset in the afterlife, having their stuff gradually disappear over time. Even their bodies were defiled as some amateur herbalists tried to claim that consuming parts of these dead people would imbue the consumer with supernatural powers. Gross. Just gross.
Setne: “I agree with you!”
Hermes: “So why are we here instead?”
Setne: “Aside from the magical nexus, you mean? I don’t want to be turned inside out by getting too close to that thing, thank you very much. Besides, I have heard that there is a dangerous spirit that lives within that pyramid.”
Hermes: “Another odd thing to believe in.”
Setne: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Nobody knows who built the Pyramid of Giza. Many say one of the gods themselves came down to set it there. Others say, even, that a god from another planet built it as a prison. Whatever the truth, I believe there is something to be suspected. And, in truth, I’d rather not find out. At least… not without exploring the easer alternatives.”
He winked at Hermes and tapped his nose.
Setne wore beige clothes. As with most Egyptians, what started as white was soon yellowed by sand. However, being royal, the son of the pharaoh should have been able to get himself new clothes daily, but he insisted this was his ‘lucky gear’ and wasn’t going to prance about the desert in finery. He wore something he called boots on his feet too, which Hermes thought looked very uncomfortable. He had a turban on his head to protect from the sun, something that Hermes wished he had considered before they departed Pi-Ramesses. Where most men had swords, Setne had a whip. When Hermes pried to the purpose, Setne informed Hermes that he rarely met people who needed to be stabbed in tombs. Instead, he found himself in need of a rope and the whip made an excellent alternative. Being older than Setne, Hermes was grateful to have this experienced tomb raider on his side.
Hermes: “I suppose it’s unlikely to be a waste of time. Even if the book is not here, there’s surely something to be learnt.”
Setne: “A man after my own heart, Hermes!”
He gave Hermes a good slap on the back.
Setne: “But let’s hope none of the mummies are restless.”
Boy: “Oi! Oi! Who goes there!?”
The two men stop as they are threatened by a boy of around ten. He was stood atop one of the monuments and waggled a spear at them. The two men shrugged at each other.
Setne: “Hello, kiddo! I’m Khaemweset and this is my foreign friend, Hermes. We’re here to see the Tomb of Osiris. What are you doing up there?”
The boy lowered his spear a little, though Setne suspected that was because it was too heavy for the kid to hold up for long.
Boy: “You won’t be stealing anything or ‘ll have you gutted!”
Setne: “I don’t think I’d say steal is quite the right word. We are looking for a special object, though. Maybe you could help us? I’m a prince of Egypt, you know?”
The boy dropped his spear in surprise and then cursed as he failed to stop it falling off the monument to the sand below. He pointed at Setne accusingly.
Boy: “You better not be lying to me!”
He started to scramble down the side of the monument.
Hermes: “Maybe we should take that spear off him before he hurts himself…”
Hermes got to the spear and hoisted it off the ground before the boy could get to it. Upon seeing his weapon taken, the boy became very nervous, having lost the confidence it gave him.
Boy: “You-you better not steal! Are you really a prince?”
Setne: “I am. Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you. But why are you here?”
The boy puffed up.
Boy: “Well, your majesty, I am a loyal servant to the crown! I am the appointed head priest of the Tomb of Osiris!”
The two men balked.
Setne: “But you’re only a boy! Eight? Nine?”
The boy shook his head with sincerity.
Boy: “No, sire! I am not that young!”
Boy: “I’m already ten!”
Hermes: “Why is the head priest a little boy?”
Setne: “You can tell us, kiddo.”
Boy: “They… killed themselves.”
Boy: “The other priests. They found out that the original priests here used to practice human sacrifice so they decided they should give it a try and see if Osiris would show up. But nobody volunteered, so they decided to practice on themselves. The last one drowned himself in a bucket, told me to tell Osiris to bring hm back to life if he showed up. But, well, he never did. Or at least, not that I could tell.”
Setne: “Since when were idiots asked to become priests?”
Boy: “I’m no idiot, Sire!”
Setne: “Sorry, kiddo. I didn’t mean you. You’re still alive, so you’re not an idiot. What’s your name by the way?”
Setne: “Alright Bay, we need to send a letter to Thebes where the top priest, Sauda, will arrange for some new priests to arrive. Hopefully not stupid ones.”
Bay: “I already did, Sire! See, told you I’m not stupid!”
Setne: “Well done, Bay!”
Bay: “So she came here herself.”
Setne: “She did!?”
Bay: “I don’t know where she is now though. She said I could be head priest!”
Setne narrowed his eyes.
Setne: “Did she now…”
Hermes: “Should we seek her out? Maybe she’ll have information on the book?”
Setne: “I hope not. If she found out the book was here, she’d take it for herself. My father hates her with good reason.”
Setne: “Oops! Sorry, Bay. Grown-up talk.”
Hermes: “Maybe you should return to your parents, child?”
Bay: “But then nobody will protect the necropolis!”
Setne: “I wonder why there is no guardian deity here? Very odd. Well, Bay, I suppose you could help us find the Tomb of Osiris?”
Bay: “Sure thing, Sire! Right this way!”
He started to march like a soldier as he led the way. The kid had dark brown skin and a mop of hair on his head that didn’t know what soap was. He even wore a little ceremonial robe, though it was still too big for him and trailed along the sand.
Bay: “Hut, two, three, four!”
The two men just shrugged at each other and followed after the child. He trooped across the desert necropolis until a large monument loomed out of the sand. It was partially buried on all sides, but the main entrance had been well excavated to allowed access. Even as they neared they felt a dark aura upon the place that chilled their very souls.
Setne: “I don’t fancy this place much.”
Hermes: “Osiris isn’t exactly the god of fluffy kittens, Setne.”
Inside the tomb, the walls are cold to the touch and the air equally so as their breath steams from between their lips. Setne could feel the water freezing on his eyelashes.
Setne: “How could the temperature drop so much? It’s scorching outside!”
Hermes: “Work of the gods? Or maybe magic?”
Bay was trying to get a torch from its sconce on the wall, but couldn’t lift it high enough to get it from its perch. Hermes reached out and hefted it free. Bay gave him a nasty look.
Bay: “I could do it myself, old man!”
Hermes: “No harm in getting help, even when we don’t need it.”
Setne: “People like to be helpful, Bay.”
Bay considered this as he looked up at the prince, but held his hands out for the torch.
Bay: “Thank you, old man. I need to carry it. It’s my duty as head priest to escort you.”
Hermes carefully handed the lit flame to the boy and the shadows danced wildly as the kid wobbled back and forth for a moment before steadying. He then trooped forth again.
As they progressed through the tomb they stumbled upon an unexpected sight.
Bay: “Oops! Looks like one of the sacrifices got loose! I guess with all the priests dead, nobody has been fattening him up!”
Cow: “A sacrificial cow. Yes. That’s what I am.”
The humans look at the cow.
Setne: “Did… you guys hear something just now?”
Cow: “Uh, moo! Moo! Don’t sacrifice me though.”
Hermes: “I think the air down here is playing tricks on our minds. We should be quick about our business.”
They pass by the cow, with some hesitation. Setne glanced back to see the cow looking at them.
Cow: “Bye now. Have a nice day!”
Setne: “This is a silly place…”
Bay: “Where do we go now? To Sauda?”
Setne: “Maybe we have no choice? For now, let’s look for clues. If we don’t find anything to tell us where the book is, we can find Sauda and ask her. But only if we really must.”
Bay glanced at Hermes with surprise.
Bay: “You know of Djer?”
Setne: “We did our research before we came here, Bay. This was once the tomb of Djer, third in the first dynasty of known kings. Converted for use by Osiris’ priests later. So far as we know, Djer was the last Egyptian to hold the Book of Thoth. That’s what we need to find.”
Bay: “I could guide you to his sarcophagus?”
Hermes: “Thank you, child.”
And so, Bay tottered on. He wobbled a few times when he lost his grip on the heavy torch but managed to keep at an even pace. The cold gripped them as they ventured on, through the darkness. There were no other torches, so the light from Bay’s hands seemed like a sacred and precious flame of protection against this unnatural quietude that enveloped them. Hermes had considered taking the torch from the boy when he almost dropped it again, but was assuaged from doing so thanks to the child’s insistence on his duty and how important it seemed to him.
Eventually they reached the sarcophagus of Djer, and nearby was that of his wife. There were a lot of objects around, designed to aid the dead pharaoh in the afterlife, but much of it was stolen or broken. No books at all.
Hermes: “Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a book before. What do they look like?”
Bay: “I don’t even know what a book is.”
Setne: “Like sheets of papyrus all strapped together. I heard that the Phoenicians put some kind of writing on theirs!”
Hermes: “But Egyptians put writing on papyrus too.”
Setne: “Hieroglyphics are not the same thing. They’re pictures to demonstrate meanings, not symbols that have exact vocal connotations. A picture of a pharaoh means that pharaoh, but another picture of a pharaoh might mean any pharaoh. It’s sort of complicated.”
Bay: “I can read these walls.”
They look at the hieroglyphics on the walls of the chamber.
Bay: “Bird. Bird. Cat. Sun. Wiggly lines. Sun. Wiggly lines. Circle. Sun. Circle. Dung beetle. Sun. Wiggly lines. Bird. Bird. Cat. Dog-man. Hedgehog.”
Setne: “You’re supposed to figure out what the symbols represent, Bay. Not just tell me what you see.”
Bay: “But you said—”
Setne: “Okay, yes, sometimes it’s just what you see. You’re right. Like this. Can you bring the torch up here?”
They gazed upon a depiction on the wall of Djer and, as Setne could clearly see, there was a book. A picture of what was clearly Thoth was holding the book aloft and Djer was kneeling to it. The four of them gathered around to look up at it.
Bay: “So that’s a book?”
Hermes: “It tells us that Thoth gave the book to Djer, but not what happened to it afterwards.”
???: “Yeah, funny that.”
Setne: “I suppose they wouldn’t have known when they made this. It looks like the book was probably stolen.”
???: “Well, you know, pharaohs these days are such cheapskates they pilfer things from older pharaohs for their own tombs.”
Setne: “That is a good point. I’ve been asked to find a few things for my father. Although, actually, they were from his first tomb, so I guess he stole from himself.”
???: “I wouldn’t mind being reincarnated myself, actually.”
Hermes: “So, if it was stolen by another pharaoh, we need to figure out which one.”
Setne: “I assume it is one of the modern pharaohs and not the ancient pharaohs.”
???: “You know, one day these modern pharaohs will be considered ancient pharaohs too?”
Bay: “Um… prince?”
Hermes: “Well, the future isn’t here yet.”
Setne: “But it’s important to distinguish, because if it’s one of the modern pharaohs then they’re probably buried in the Theban Necropolis. Not here in El Qaʻāb.”
???: “Doesn’t that mean ‘mother of pots’? Is that seriously what they all this place nowadays?”
Hermes: “It is.”
???: “No respect for the dead, that’s what that is.”
Setne: “Well, one day in the future when we’re all ancient, they might not even call this Egypt. They’ll just call it ‘that old place with the sand’ or something. I guess we all get forgotten and nobody cares we existed.”
Hermes: “That’s certainly bleak.”
???: “But something I can relate to. How sad the human memory is.”
Bay: “Prince! Prince! Prince!”
Setne: “Bay, we are having an adult conversation here.”
???: “Kids these days. No respect for their elders. Always pining for attention.”
Hermes: “So the book is in the Theban Necroplis. There is still a lot of ground to cover there. But maybe the workers of Deir el-Medina will know something?”
Setne: “Wow, Hermes! I am impressed with your research. You are right. The town may have some answers, but they are only builders. I don’t think they keep track of artefacts. More likely we’d want to visit one of the temples and ask the priests. The Temple of Hathor might be the best choice.”
???: “Oh, they have Hathor at the new necropolis? That must be nice!”
Hermes: “It’s a shame only Osiris is worshipped at this necropolis.”
???: “Indeed. Having some gods venerated here would be a breath of fresh air, I can tell you! Not that you get much fresh air down here. Or breaths for that matter, haha!”
They had a good chuckle at the bad joke, still admiring the wall painting.
Setne: “Okay, team! I think we have our next destination. Lucky we avoided Sauda, eh?”
???: “Oh, that’s the Nubian woman is it? She was here earlier. Looking for a bird, I think.”
Setne: “A bird? Down here?”
???: “That’s what I said!”
The two men turned to the third.
And realised they’d been joined by said third for a while now.
And said third was, in fact, dead.
???: “Hullo chaps.”
The mummy wiggled his fingers at them.
Bay: “I tried to tell you!”