"Go on, Maharet," Khayman said. "For in all likelihood, the Mother will be destroyed and we both know how
and why, and all this talk means nothing."
"What can prophecy mean now, Khayman?" Maharet asked, her voice low, devitalized. "Do we fall into the
same errors that ensnare the Mother? The past may instruct us. But it won't save us."
"Your sister comes, Maharet. She comes as she said she would."
"Khayman," Maharet said with a long, bitter smile.
"Tell us what happened," Gabrielle said.
Maharet sat still, as if trying to find some way to begin. The sky beyond the windows darkened in the
interval. Yet a faint tinge of red appeared in the far west, growing brighter and brighter against the gray
clouds. Finally, it faded, and they were wrapped in absolute darkness, except for the light of the fire, and the
dull sheen of the glass walls which had become mirrors.
"Khayman took you to
"Yes, he took us to
table before her. "There was no escape from it; Khayman would have taken us by force.
And in truth, we accepted that we had to go. Through twenty generations, we had gone between man and
the spirits. If Amel had done some great evil, we would try to undo it. Or at least ... as I said to you when we
first came to this table ... we would seek to understand.
"I left my child. I left her in the care of those women 1 trusted most. I kissed her. I told her secrets. And then I
left her, and we set out, carried in the royal litter as if we were guests of the King and Queen of Kemet and
not prisoners, just as before.
"Khayman was gentle with us on the long march, but grim and silent, and refusing to meet our gaze. And it
was just as well, for we had not forgotten our injuries. Then on the very last night when we camped on the
banks of the great river, which we would cross in the morning to reach the royal palace, Khayman called us
into his tent and told us all that he knew.
"His manner was courteous, decorous. And we tried to put aside our personal suspicions of him as we
listened. He told us of what the demon-as he called it-had done.
"Only hours after we had been sent out of
dark and evil force. Everywhere that he went, he felt this presence, though in the light of day it tended to
"Then things within his house were altered-little things which others did not notice. He thought at first he was
going mad. His writing things were misplaced; then the seal which he used as great steward. Then at
random moments-and always when he was alone-these objects came flying at him, striking him in the face,
or landing at his feet. Some turned up in ridiculous places. He would find the great seal, for instance, in his
beer or his broth.
"And he dared not tell the King and Queen. He knew it was our spirits who were doing it; and to tell would be
a death sentence for us.
"And so he kept this awful secret, as things grew worse and worse. Ornaments which he had treasured from
childhood were now rent to pieces and made to rain down upon him. Sacred amulets were hurled into the
privy; excrement was taken from the well and smeared upon the walls.
"He could barely endure his own house, yet he admonished his slaves to tell no one, and when they ran off
in fear, he attended to his own toilet and swept the place like a lowly servant himself.
"But he was now in a state of terror. Something was there with him in his house. He could hear its breath
upon his face. And now and then he would swear that he felt its needlelike teeth.
"At last in desperation he began to talk to it, beg it to get out. But this seemed only to increase its strength.
With the talking, it redoubled its power. It emptied his purse upon the stones and made the gold coins jingle
against each other all night long. It upset his bed so that he landed on his face on the floor. It put sand in his
food when he wasn't looking.
"Finally six months had passed since we had left the kingdom. He was growing frantic. Perhaps we were
beyond danger. But he could not be sure, and he did not know where to turn, for the spirit was really
"Then in the dead of night, as he lay wondering what the thing was up to, for it had been so quiet, he heard
suddenly a great pounding at his door. He was in terror. He knew he shouldn't answer, that the knocking
didn't come from a human hand. But finally he could bear it no longer. He said his prayers; he threw open
the door. And what he beheld was the horror of horrors- the rotted mummy of his father, the filthy wrappings
in tatters, propped against the garden wall.
"Of course, he knew there was no life in the shrunken face or dead eyes that stared at him. Someone or
something had unearthed the corpse from its desert mastaba and brought it there. And this was the body of
his father, putrid, stinking; the body of his father, which by all things holy, should have been consumed in a
proper funeral feast by Khayman and his brothers and sisters.
"Khayman sank to his knees weeping, half screaming. And then, before his unbelieving eyes, the thing
moved! The thing began to dance! Its limbs were jerked hither and thither, the wrappings breaking to bits
and pieces, until Khayman ran into the house and shut the door against it. And then the corpse was flung,
pounding its fist it seemed, upon the door, demanding entrance.
"Khayman called on all the gods of
called to the soldiers of the King. He cursed the demon thing and ordered it to leave him; and Khayman
became the one flinging objects now, and kicking the gold coins about in his rage.
"All the palace rushed through the royal gardens to Khayman's house. But the demon now seemed to grow
even stronger. The shutters rattled and then were torn from their pivots. The few bits of fine furniture which
Khayman possessed began to skitter about.
"Yet this was only the beginning. At dawn when the priests entered the house to exorcise the demon, a great
wind came out of the desert, carrying with it torrents of blinding sand. And everywhere Khayman went, the
wind pursued him; and finally he looked down to see his arms covered with tiny pinpricks and tiny droplets of
blood. Even his eyelids were assaulted. In a cabinet he flung himself to get some peace. And the thing tore
up the cabinet. And all fled from it. And Khayman was left crying on the floor.
"For days the tempest continued. The more the priests prayed and sang, the more the demon raged.
"The King and Queen were beside themselves in consternation. The priests cursed the demon. The people
blamed it upon the red-haired witches. They cried that we should never have been allowed to leave the land
of Kemet. We should be found at all costs and brought back to be burnt alive. And then the demon would be
"But the old families did not agree with this verdict. To them the judgment was clear. Had not the gods
unearthed the putrid body of Khayman's father, to show that the flesh eaters had always done what was
pleasing to heaven? No, it was the King and Queen who were evil, the King and Queen who must die. The
King and Queen who had filled the land with mummies and superstition.
"The kingdom, finally, was on the verge of civil war.
"At last the King himself came to Khayman, who sat weeping in his house, a garment drawn over him like a
shroud. And the King talked to the demon, even as the tiny bites afflicted Khayman and made drops of blood
on the cloth that covered Khayman.
" 'Now think what those witches told us,' the King said. These are but spirits, not demons. And they can be
reasoned with. If only I could make them hear me as the witches could; and make them answer.'
"But this little conversation only seemed to enrage the demon. It broke what little furniture it had not already
smashed. It tore the door off its pivots; it uprooted the trees from the garden and flung them about. In fact, it
seemed to forget Khayman altogether for the moment, as it went tearing through the palace gardens
destroying all that it could.
"And the King went after it, begging it to recognize him and to converse with him, and to impart to him its
secrets. He stood in the very midst of the whirlwind created by this demon, fearless and en rapt.
"Finally the Queen appeared. In a loud piercing voice she addressed the demon too. 'You punish us for the
affliction of the red-haired sisters!' she screamed. 'But why do you not serve us instead of them!' At once the
demon tore at her clothes and greatly afflicted her, as it had done to Khayman before. She tried to cover her
arms and her face, but it was impossible. And so the King took hold of her and together they ran back to
" 'Now, go,' said the King to Khayman. 'Leave us alone with this thing for I will learn from it, I will understand
what it wants.' And calling the priests to him, he told them through the whirlwind what we had said, that the
spirit hated mankind because we were both spirit and flesh. But he would ensnare it and reform it and
control it. For he was Enkil, King of Kemet, and he could do this thing.
"Into Khayman's house, the King and the Queen went together, and the demon went with them, tearing the
place to pieces, yet there they remained. Khayman, who was now free of the thing, lay on the floor of the
palace exhausted, fearing for his sovereigns but not knowing what to do.
"The entire court was in an uproar; men fought one another; women wept, and some even left the palace for
fear of what was to come.
"For two whole nights and days, the King remained with the demon; and so did the Queen. And then the old
families, the flesh eaters, gathered outside the house. The King and Queen were in error; it was time to
seize the future of Kemet. At nightfall, they went into the house on their deadly errand with daggers raised.
They would kill the King and Queen; and if the people raised any outcry, then they would say that the demon
had done it; and who could say that the demon had not? And would not the demon stop when the King and
Queen were dead, the King and Queen who had persecuted the red-haired witches?
"It was the Queen who saw them coming; and as she rushed forward, crying in alarm, they thrust their
daggers into her breast and she sank down dying. The King ran to her aid, and they struck him down too,
just as mercilessly; and then they ran out of the house, for the demon had not stopped his persecutions.
"Now Khayman, all this while, had knelt at the very edge of the garden, deserted by the guards who had
thrown in with the flesh eaters. He expected to die with other servants of the royal family. Then he heard a
horrid wailing from the Queen. Sounds such as he had never heard before. And when the flesh eaters heard
these sounds, they deserted the place utterly.
"It was Khayman, loyal steward to the King and Queen, who snatched up a torch and went to the aid of his
master and mistress.