“In the beginning, there was no land; the whole world was nothing but water. From outside the heavens, the Great God Re-Atum spoke the secret word, forming the foundation of the world. Deep below the surface of the primordial waters, a small hill awakened and began to rise.
“After an eon, the hill grew into a mountain and breached the surface of the waters, a solitary pyramid. Re-Atum entered the heavens and rested upon it, thinking of all he wished to create. When he was ready, he spoke a secret word. The mountain’s foundation lifted from the four corners of the world, rising through the waters, becoming valleys, plains, deserts, and cliffs, the waters draining into the depths between them.
“But the land was barren, so Re-Atum covered it with grasses, flowers, and trees. Pleased with his work, he spoke another secret word and brought forth the birds, to fill the sky with color and song, and from within the waters of the river, the creatures who breathe the wet air sprang to life.
“He spoke the final secret word and brought forth the gazelles, and lions, and all the living things which breathe the dry air. He looked upon his creation and was filled with joy. From this sacred mountain top—the first pyramid—Re-Atum brought forth life from nothing.
“His heart was so overcome with joy, he wept. His tears fell to the earth, mixing with the dust. Out of the mixture, beautiful men and women rose to their feet. But these men and women had not been created with a secret word, so they were flawed. Re-Atum could not see them, and they could not see him or understand the wisdom of his creatures.
“Because the men and women were flawed, they became hungry and cold. They longed for the flesh and skins of the wise animals, so they slaughtered them.
“When Re-Atum discovered what had been done to his companions, he fell to his knees and tore his garments to shreds. Who would dare destroy what he had created? Filled with wrath, he spoke the secret word to bring to life a daughter to avenge him. From out of the ground, the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet rose, growling.
“She ran, roaring, after the men and women, hungry for their blood. Astonished to see a woman with the head of a lion, they fell to their knees, worshiping her. Sekhmet read their thoughts and understood what her father could not. She decided to spare them and teach them the way of the Creator, so they might atone.
“Though the men and women were blind to the wisdom of Sekhmet’s teachings, they were willing to obey. As they studied her teachings, and their hearts opened, it became their greatest hope to be able to commune with Re-Atum as they could with Sekhmet, sharing in the wisdom of the other creatures.
“For one thousand years, under Sekhmet’s guidance, they labored to build a vast temple to honor Re-Atum. When all was ready, they raised an obelisk in the temple’s center court, marking the place where they had first awakened, its golden cover reflecting the brilliance of Re-Atum’s light. They waited, hoping, and praying for Re-Atum to notice their monument to him, but because their hearts were still impure, he could not see them. Then, one terrible day, still heartbroken from the loss of his companions, Re-Atum stepped onto his barque and sailed into the heavens, leaving them behind, unseen and unheard.
“In a sacred court, far to the north of Waset, at Iunu, there stands an ancient weathered obelisk still capped with gold. No one knows how old the obelisk is, but the sages say it must be hundreds of thousands of years old. It is said this obelisk may be the very one raised by the first men and women to atone for their crimes. If this is so, then Iunu is the place where Re-Atum himself once cried with happiness, bringing us to life, flawed though we are.
“Since he left and ascended to the heavens, the ancient texts have taught our true purpose is to purify our hearts, so when the Creator sails in his sky barque, he will be able to see us. On that day he will descend from the heavens, and walk among us, granting us the wisdom of his first creations. Together we shall walk through scented gardens, side by side with the gods and goddesses, and speak of wondrous things. Egypt will be filled with peace, wisdom, and understanding, once more becoming the beloved home of Re-Atum.”
Meresamun’s voice faded away. Utter silence descended on the banquet hall. She bowed, her golden hairband glittering in the torchlight, and backed away from the royal platform.
“Priestess of Sekhmet,” Pharaoh Ramesses called from his throne, imperious. “You will wait.”
Meresamun stopped, uncertain.
Ramesses rose and descended the steps of the platform. He circled the priestess, appraising her. Taking hold of her chin—the golden armbands on his forearm and biceps gleaming in the torchlight—he tilted her face up so he could see her. She kept her eyes lowered. On each of her eyelids, someone had painted the eye of Horus, the effect pleased him well.
“Look at me.”
The smallest shake of her head. “Your Majesty. It is forbidden.”
“I command it.”
Hesitant, her eyes met his. He caught his breath. Blue, the color of lapis lazuli. How rare. The scent of her washed over him—lilies, his favorite. He looked over the hall at his guests, watching, excited, whispering, hoping he would do something outrageous. He would not let them down.
“Priestess of Sekhmet,” he said, raising his voice so all could hear, “in your telling, you have given the creation story beauty and life, moving our heart as it has never been moved before. We cannot let such a telling go unrewarded. Therefore, you shall have anything you wish.” He heard the gasps, rippling outward. They would talk about this for the next week. He hoped she asked for something extravagant so he could show his wealth. She trembled in his grip, terrified. He leaned closer. “Whatever you ask, it will be yours. Do not be afraid.”
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