Read Slayer of Gods Online

Authors: Lynda S. Robinson

Slayer of Gods (4 page)

Meren felt a flush burn up his neck to his face. “By all the gods of Egypt. Anath.”

“Greetings, Meren.”

Before he could get up, Anath grabbed his hand and hauled him to his feet.

To cover his embarrassment at being rescued by a woman, even this woman, Meren busied himself brushing dirt from his kilt.
Then he faced her, his features composed. “Welcome back to Egypt, Eyes of Babylon.”

Anath cocked her head to the side, planted her fists on her hips, and studied him. Then she laughed.

“You should have seen yourself squirming in the dirt. You’ve grown soft lolling about here in Egypt.”

Feeling his face heat again, Meren decided not to respond to Anath’s teasing. She hadn’t changed in the two years she’d been
away. She found humor in the oddest places. She was the daughter of a concubine, fathered by a nobleman called Nebwawi. Neglected
by her elderly father, Anath had roamed the city without escort and turned up at odd places like the royal docks and in temple
schools to which only boys were admitted. Nebwawi had been a friend of Meren’s father, and Meren had watched Anath grow up.
She loved horses, spending more time in the stables than the house, and
could commune with almost any creature—cats, dogs, birds, monkeys, even the royal lions and leopards.

A leopard, that’s what she reminded him of, a diminutive hunting cat. Anath had inherited her mother’s wildly curling black
hair, but her light, gold-brown eyes were unique. Nebwawi came from a family prominent in the delta, where Greeks and Mittannis
intermarried with Egyptians. Whatever its origin, Anath’s uniqueness served her better than her beauty did. Small yet athletic,
she could outshoot many of his charioteers at the bow, and certainly had as much skill in driving a chariot. Still, Meren
had never understood what had prompted Ay to train her to be one of the Eyes of Pharaoh. That had been at Horizon of the Aten.

Anath had spent several years under Ay’s tutelage. She managed to avoid the notice of the unpredictable Akhenaten, but when
pharaoh’s behavior became even more erratic, Ay had sent his protégée to Memphis to complete her education. Later she had
gone to Tyre, then Byblos, and finally Babylon.

Not yet thirty, Anath was now one of the most successful of the Eyes of Pharaoh under Meren’s direction. She lived in Babylon
most of the time, posing as the wealthy widow of an Egyptian trader. She had inherited her father’s fleet of ships, and they
plied their trade at ports like Mycenae in Greece, the cities in Cyprus, and those in the Egyptian empire in Canaan and Palestine.
Her wealth gave her power, which in turn gave her access to foreign courts and kings. However, Meren still remembered her
as an awkward girl in Horizon of the Aten. Always by herself, neglected and allowed to wander, she’d rush into rooms, late
for meals or receptions, sweaty and smelling like horses.

That was all long ago, and now she was looking at him the way she did a lame horse, the way his physician did during an examination.
Meren straightened his spine and muttered his thanks for her timely intervention. His charioteers would chuckle behind his
back for weeks when they found out he’d needed rescuing by a woman. Irritated, Meren forestalled the questions he could see
Anath was going to ask.

“What are you doing in the Caverns at this time of night?”

Anath glanced up at the brightening sky. “I docked yesterday, and I was on my way to see how my horses fared after the long
journey home. You know I rise early.”

“I remember you hardly slept.”

“I sleep,” she said with a toss of her head. “I just don’t sleep long. Life is too interesting to waste it sleeping, Meren.”

Somewhere nearby a donkey brayed, and they heard the scuffling and muted tap of dozens of sheep’s hooves. The new day was
beginning. Anath put one hand on the hilt of the dagger at her waist and swept the other in a gesture indicating that Meren
should precede her.

“I think I should escort you home. You shouldn’t be wandering the streets in your condition.”

“How did you know—never mind,” Meren said. He shook his head as he led the way out of the alley. “I forgot with whom I was

“Pharaoh told me you ferreted out a traitor and took an arrow,” Anath said as she followed him. “It seems I’ve come home just
in time.”

As he walked he looked back at her, scowling. “I asked pharaoh to summon someone to help uncover a murderer, Anath. You’re
not here to rescue me, by the gods.”

As he finished he stepped into an intersection and nearly ran into the path of a woman with a tall water jar balanced on her
head. Anath grabbed his arm and pulled him back just in time. Meren tightened his mouth and watched the woman walk by with
that steady, smooth gait required to balance a heavy jar. Then he heard Anath chuckle. Setting his jaw, he launched into the
street with a quick stride. With luck, he would leave her behind. Three streets later she was still at his heels, and he was
the one out of breath. He gave up and slowed down. Anath drew alongside him, unperturbed.

“You must be greatly troubled,” she remarked mildly.

“Why do you say that?”

“Why else would you ask me to come home? We both know the king of Babylon is hatching plots with the Hittites, and I’m not
going to find out what they are from Memphis.”

“You have an able assistant, as I remember. He’ll manage until you return. I need to…”

His words faded as they came upon the public well near his house. Several men were hefting the sodden body of an old woman
up the stairs. Meren hurried to the crowd that surrounded the body as it was laid on the ground. He broke through to see the
pale, flaccid features of Satet.

“Stand back,” he said to those around him. “Who found this woman?”

“I did, lord,” said a woman carrying a water jar. She made a sign against evil and cast a fearful glance at the well. “Poor

“You knew her?” Meren asked.

“She would come to the well and visit with those who drew water,” said the woman. “I came a few moments ago and found her
when I got to the bottom of the stairs. She was under the water, just floating there.” The woman swallowed hard. “I knew it
was too late. She was facedown, and didn’t move.”

“I see,” Meren said as he knelt beside the body.

Behind him he heard Anath talking to the men who had brought the body out of the well. He lifted a length of her soggy white
hair. A wound on Satet’s forehead might have come had she stumbled on the stairs and hit her head. He’d warned the old one
about wandering around the city alone, but she’d managed to slip out by herself again. Shaking his head, Meren stood and gave
orders for the body to be taken to his house. His physician, Nebamun, would examine it, but there was little doubt that Satet
had drowned. The blow to her head wouldn’t have killed her, unless she was more fragile than Meren had thought.

Still, with Nefertiti’s killer still free, he could never be certain that a witness like Satet hadn’t died by design. Someone
could have hit her and dumped her into the well. So many witnesses had ended up dead that he couldn’t afford to assume that
Satet’s demise was an accident. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more certain he became. He didn’t believe in convenient
accidents or coincidences. Satet’s body had abrasions on it where the face and shoulders had scraped against the well, probably
as it floated in the water. Or were these signs of a struggle? Nebamun might know.

Whatever the case, his enforced rest was now at an end, no matter how much his family might object. Meren walked around the
well, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“No one heard her cry out,” Anath said, as she rejoined him. “No one heard her fall. Her body was stiff?”

“Yes. I think she died a few hours ago.”

“She was a servant of yours?”

Meren leaned against the wall that surrounded the well and surveyed the trampled ground. “You might call her so.” He narrowed
his eyes as something gleamed in the growing sunlight. “What’s that?”

Anath followed the direction of his gaze, picked up an irregularly shaped piece of light-colored pottery and turned it over.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Meren took it from her. It wasn’t pottery after all. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it was a piece of ivory.

“What is this doing here?” he murmured to himself.

Anath gave the shell a glance and shrugged. “It’s litter, Meren. Like that piece of basket over there, and those shards of

“Perhaps.”Meren slipped the ivory in his belt and shoved away from the wall. As he did so the woman he’d questioned hurried
to him and bowed.

“Lord Meren, what will we do? We can’t take water from the well.”

“Have a magician priest purify it,” Anath answered.

Meren nodded. “I’ll send someone when I return home.”

“The lord is most kind and generous,” the woman said.

As he and Anath left, the woman was surrounded by her friends and plied with questions.

Anath glanced at them over her shoulder, then shook her head at Meren. “It seems to be dangerous to live in your household.”

“Satet might have tripped on the well stairs, Anath.”

“You don’t believe that.” Her demeanor was calm. Unlike more sheltered women, violent death didn’t disturb her.

“She might have tripped,” Meren repeated. “But you’re right. Since I began to investigate a certain crime, too many people
have been killed.” Meren glanced at Anath’s calm expression. “Have you ever read one of the copies of the inscriptions from
the pyramids of the ancient ones? There is one that speaks of great evil—the sky darkens, the vaults of the heavens quiver,
and the bones of the earth tremble. If I can’t find the one whom I seek, he will cause all that to happen. I fear for the
harmony and balance of Egypt.”

“One man will do this?”

He stopped and looked down at the Eyes of Babylon. “One man, Anath, succeeded in banishing the gods of Egypt. I no longer
ask what one man can do if he has the courage, or the madness with which to accomplish evil.”

Chapter 2

By midday Meren had arranged for Satet’s embalming and burial in the commoner’s necropolis. A consultation with Nebamun, who
had examined the body, confirmed Meren’s suspicion that there was no way of knowing whether the old woman died by accident
or design. The mysterious circumstances behind Satet’s death made him even more anxious to get to Syene and find Nefertiti’s
chief bodyguard.

When he returned from the investigation and burial arrangements, Anath visited with Bener. The Eyes of Babylon swept into
his house as if it were her own, calling out to his daughter.

“Bener, where are you? I sail the Great Green to see you, and you’re lying about somewhere, I vow!”

Bener had appeared in the main reception hall, eyes wide, mouth open at the sight of Anath. Then she’d given a whoop and launched
herself into the older woman’s arms. The two had laughed, hugged, and left Meren standing by himself in the lofty chamber
while they hurried off to find Kysen.

Slightly annoyed that Anath could dismiss their impending business so easily, Meren muttered to himself. “You’d think she
was sixteen instead of twenty-nine, by the gods.”

Now Meren was walking beside the reflection pool in the private garden behind the house. Beyond the wall he could hear the
rhythmic creak and slosh of the shaduf, the long wooden pole with a bucket at its end that lifted water from a nearby canal.
It supplied the pipes and small ditches that fed the garden’s pool, trees, and flower beds. The north breeze kept the heat
away for the moment, but soon even shade would fail to ward off the power of Ra, the sun. The cool months were still many
weeks away, and Meren wished he could speed their arrival. Ordinarily the heat was something he ignored, but during his enforced
idleness he’d had time to think about it, which only made his recovery more tedious.

He paused to stare at the rows of incense trees resting in their protective ceramic containers—frankincense, tamarisk, and
myrrh shrubs. Anath had been recalled at his request because she was one of the few he could trust with the secret of Nefertiti’s
murder. She wasn’t a member of a rival faction at court, and they were childhood friends. In her offhand and rebellious way
she’d always been his ally, ever since that day many years ago when she’d fallen into a canal during a game of chase with
her playmates. Meren had plucked her from the water just as a crocodile tried to snatch her in its long, slimy jaws.

He was wasting time in memories. Turning quickly, Meren beckoned to a maid and told her to summon Abu, the commander of his
charioteers. When Abu arrived, Meren was leaning against an old horseradish tree.

The charioteer saluted. “Yes, lord.”

“Are the preparations made for tomorrow’s sailing?”

“There you are.” Anath came down the graded path toward him, her gown a bright red contrast to the dappled shadows cast by
the shade trees. “Oh, Abu. Greetings.”

She sailed past the charioteer with a nod and joined Meren. “What’s this about going south? You’re not completely healed.”

Other books

One That Came Back by Lexy Timms
Futile Efforts by Piccirilli, Tom
Vrin: Ten Mortal Gods by John Michael Hileman
Meant For Me by Erin McCarthy
Second Chance by Linda Kepner