As Ra sailed into the sky’s arc on Serqa’s thirteenth birthday, she burned an incense cone of myrrh and lotus flowers in front of her little plaster Isis. She breathed in and told herself a story of her father’s magical return home.
The world was full of magic. Serqa was certain that Se-Osiris, who lived in the row house next door to the Gorgos Sisters Hellenic gymnasium for girls, was a magician. Since he was very old, he didn’t go out very much into Cairo. Also, Serqa was certain that the Isis statue came alive when Serqa left the room. Serqa said to Betet, the girl who cleaned her rooms, “I never catch her at it.”
“Yes, Miss Serqa.” Betet smiled shyly at the tiled floor as she swept.
Serqa’s birthday celebration took place in the garden behind the large stone row house. Despite the name, the garden had no trees or flowers in it. It was full of stone statues so perfect that they looked as if they had been alive a few moments before they became statues, which meant they had been. There was also a clay track for running and a pile of rocks. Stheno, the older Gorgos sister, would throw the rocks at girls who weren’t running fast enough. This had something to do with a classic Hellenic education.
Stheno never threw rocks at Serqa. She pushed Serqa forward and said, “Here is our beautiful star student.” The way she said it always made Serqa think of a cobra hissing.
At Serqa’s birthday party there was a camel, three acrobats and a pile of gifts taller than herself. Stheno bought them on behalf of Serqa's father, Strategos Chysthanos.
Euryale, the younger Gorgos sister, clutched an old strip of fabric and watched the acrobats. She sniffed, “A wonderful birthday for a wonderful girl.” She said it in voice that made Serqa think of the low of a cow when her calf is taken from her.
Serqa’s own mother had died when Serqa was seven. The same year that Strategos Chysthanos went far away to fight for Pharaoh Ptolemy in the wars.
Serqa had woken up that morning and realized that she no longer remembered what her father’s face looked like, which is why she’d told the story to herself. She looked into a piece of polished silver to see if she could see glimpse of him, but she saw her mother there in every part of her face, except for her green eyes. Her father had green eyes.
On the afternoon that she was thirteen, Stheno came out into the garden and screamed, “Stop. Everyone stop.” She snarled at the acrobats. She pointed at the camel with a long hard finger. "Take that thing and get out." She ripped the doll with yellow flax hair from Serqa's arms. "Your father died in battle. His estates in Syria and Hellene were lost. The lands in Cairo and in Lower Egypt were taken by Pharaoh. You have nothing." She shook the doll so that its hair bounced. "I paid for all of this." She looked at her sister, Euryale. "We pay for everything." Stheno snarled and turned away.
Serqa stood very still as one does when a serpent is near.
Her green eyed father was dead. His Ka had left him. Serqa had no way of knowing if the proper funeral rites had been carried out. His Sheut, his shadow soul, might have been cast onto the yellow winds. Pharaoh might strike her father’s name from monuments. She couldn't be sure of the state of her father’s heart as he stood before Osiris. His Ba might be circling lost in the sky.
She walked in a blur of sorrow.
Euryale led Serqa up to the roof of the row house, a wide flat space broken up with low walls. Euryale said, "This is where you'll sleep now." She knitted her plump hands. "I'm sorry for your loss." Euryale bobbed her head. She took the oil lamp and left behind only the dark.
Serqa looked in the starlight, but she did not see a bed. She was so tired that she lay down on the bricks.
As the moon climbed into the sky, Betet came up to the roof. She rolled out a thin reed mat. She whispered, "Miss Serqa, you sleep the mat." After Serqa struggled onto it, Betet pushed something dark to her. “I get Isis from old room.”
Serqa took the old worn Isis figure that she had been her mother's and whispered, "Thank you."
This was when Serqa thought to herself that now she must be like Isis while she wandered as a beggar with her baby when her brother-husband was killed by their brother.
Serqa swallowed what tears she had under the stars and she whispered, "I think that we are like the sisters, Isis and Nepthys, who were trapped in their mother's womb, which is the night sky." She pointed up at the milky spill of stars. "We are waiting for my father, Thoth, to trick the sun and moon so that we can be born."
Betet rolled over on her mat and sat up on one elbow. "I not a goddess. I clean up after ladies."
Serqa, for the first time, wondered why they were speaking in Hellene. She looked up at the night stars of their mother, Nut, and whispered in the language of Khemet, "I am like you now."
Betet exhaled. "I did not know that you spoke Khemet." Betet laughed and it was a beautiful sound.
Serqa looked up at the sky and said with all the conviction that a thirteen year old girl can have, "I think we are like the goddesses, only we are in disguise, because," and she decided then the way this story went, "we are on a quest. This place is cursed."
"Oh, and don't I know it," laughed Betet again to the night sky. "The cook curses me in Khemet and the Gorgos sisters curse me in Hellene."
Serqa put her arms behind her head and explained it as a story within a story. "Once the king of the Assyrians put a curse on Pharaoh that stole his shadow soul and made his heart heavy and he became like a madman. He raged for no reason and threw rocks at his court and he cried when he saw his children laughing. I think the curse is like that." She let the shape of the curse make itself in her mouth as she spoke the heaviness in her heart. “I think there is a curse on the hearts of the Gorgos sisters and that is why their shadow souls cover the house.”
Betet yawned. "I’ve always loved your stories. When I listen, sometimes I lose the meaning of the words, but it doesn't matter because I'm falling down your voice.” She yawned again. “But we should get some sleep." Betet followed her own advice.
But Serqa stared up at the womb of her mother, Nut, and told herself a story about how her father, Thoth, would rescue her soon.
She was interrupted when Anubis scrabbled across the bricks in the form of a rat. His eyes glittered red in the starlight, but she knew that it was him. She never would have seen him in her old rooms, but here, high above this cursed place, he was able to get in. She got up and bowed to him. She whispered, "Is my father well? Were the proper funeral rites observed? Is it my fault he died? Is it because I wished for magic? Is it because I didn't notice the curse?"
The rat put his paws on Isis and squeaked. Serqa understood. She felt the rock on her heart lift a little, as in the distance the fat moon rose higher in the sky.
She looked over the edge of the roof and held Isis next to her heart. Anubis sat on the ledge. They looked out over Cairo and she saw the part of the soul of the city that was its shadow. It was so dark and deep that she did not need to be Horus to see it. She pointed at the shadow soul and whispered, "That's the past. Time goes into the deep earth like a star in Nut's belly."
She thought about time. How time went into the deep earth. How time sat on her shoulders like the sand scattered on the pyramids. How time hovered in the sky like Horus until it descended onto her shoulders and then into the deep earth.
She remembered that when she was little, she’d often slept with her parents on the roof when it was too hot to sleep inside. She looked up at the stars and thought about the times her father had told her their Hellenic names. She heard her mother’s voice telling her about Isis and Nepthys in the belly of Nut.
She thought about that as she looked up at the stars with time falling on her face in the form of moonlight. She thought about that as she blinked tired on a new morning. Anubis had gone. His place had been taken by Cackling Geb, who wore the form of a monkey. She said, "Hello."
Betet blinked awake. "What is it?"
Serqa bowed solemnly. "It's a messenger from your father, Cackling Geb, who is the earth under our mother sky. He's here to tell us that we will be rescued soon." Just then the first beam of Ra bust over the horizon. "See."
Betet sighed. "That's not rescue. That's morning."
"You'll see." Serqa grinned at Ra, who was keeping them trapped in time, but her father, Thoth, would find a way. She ran after Betet down the stairs.
She thought about rescue a great deal as she cleaned out the rooms of her former friends. Some laughed at her. Some turned away from her.
Ermentherna, who she’d always pitied because she wasn’t very clever, looked at her with wide eyes and twisted her hands. She said nothing.
Serqa learned what hunger was and knew that this was what it was like when Isis lived in the reed marsh and had to beg for food for herself and baby Horus.
That very night, she saw Se-Osiris carried up on a litter onto the roof of the row house. Serqa waved to him and the tall servant who cared for him. Cackling Geb jumped over Se-Osiris in his shelter of reeds woven together for shade.
She watched him over the low wall, but just as Se-Osiris was about to do magic, Ermentherna came up through the trap door onto the roof. She whispered, because the roof invited whispers, "Hello, Serqa. Is this where you sleep now?" She held up her lamp. "It's very dark. Where is your bed? Where do you put your lamp?"
Betet sighed and said in Hellene, "No bed. No lamp." She muttered under her breath in Khemet, "No polished wood tables or chairs encased in electrum either."
Serqa let time slip out of her spread hands. "This is the womb of Nut, our mother." Serqa raised her face to the breeze. She said, "Close your eyes and you can feel the breeze that has been sent by Thoth, my father.
Ermentherna said, "I thought your father was, oh, that is nice." She closed her eyes. She held out the book under her arm. "I brought the book my father just sent me. I thought maybe you could read it to me, so I could understand it and father won't be as angry at me."
Serqa rolled out the reed mat and sat cross legged on it." She gestured to it. "This mat was woven by Cackling Geb, who is the earth. It keeps whoever sits on it safe from the jackals that haunt the red desert.
Ermentherna looked around startled. "Are there a lot of jackals up here?"
"No," Serqa tugged Ermentherna down, "because we have the mats." She felt her heart lift a little. There was still something that she could do.
She read to both Betet and Ermentherna from the book in a mix of Hellene and Khemet until Ermentherna cracked a yawn that almost broke her face. The moon rose up over the city of Cairo, which was when Serqa remembered. She said, "Betet and I are on a quest. We think the Gorgos sisters have a curse on their shadow souls."
“I guess that makes sense.” Ermentherna's forehead wrinkled. "Can I, I know I’m not terribly clever, but maybe I could help.” Her hands worried at her clothes. “But probably not."
"Of course you can." Serqa hugged her. "And you'll see. The magic will help too."
In the morning, she woke to the sound of Cackling Geb laughing at her before dawn. The magic had brought a small oil lamp and a jar of oil. She lit the lamp and put it front of Isis, so she could see too. She bowed to Cackling Geb, who sat on the low wall that separated the row houses. She waved at the tall servant of Se-Osiris and called softly, "Good morning."
He waved back in the round light of his own lamp. “Beautiful morning.”
She read until Ra sailed into the sky. Betet sat up. "Where did you get a lamp?"
"Magic." Serqa smiled. "Cackling Geb brought it because Isis asked him to."
"Oh," said Betet. She touched the side of the lamp and she bowed to Isis for good measure. "Thank you."
Isis smiled serenely, but she didn't move, because they were looking at her.
Later, while Stheno threw rocks to encourage the girls to run and Euryale taught rhetoric, they crept into their room. Ermentherna stood worried guard at the door.
Betet said, "Looks like it always does. There's nothing here."
"No, see." Serqa pointed to where the sunlight through the window mat cast circular shadows on the floor. It was like when a pebble was dropped in a garden pool.
She whispered, “Magic, keep me safe.” She took a deep breath and stepped into the water. The fabric of her dress floated up around her ankles and her thighs and her neck.
Above her, Betet said, “I can't swim."
She held her breath until her lungs burned. Burned and she breathed in. She told herself the story of it as she breathed the water like air. Her words bubbled back up to Betet. "Don't worry, the magic will help you." Betet hesitated and jumped in.
They walked down the ripples like steps. The walls changed as they went down. First the white washed stone walls gave way to mud and then became a temple to Wadjet, the serpent goddess, which had been lost when Isis wept as she found out that Osiris was dead.
Serqa told the story of it as they went and it was true. On the altar that broke above the ripples sat four funeral jars. They were each painted with the face of a screaming woman. She had serpents for hair and the sides were painted with wings or perhaps the wings were blood dripping from her neck. Serqa touched the jars gently and whispered, "Who was it who died and made Stheno so angry and Euryale so sad?"
Betet stood waist deep in the water with her hands held together at her chest. "It's magic. It’s really magic."
They heard Ermentherna’s harsh whisper through the water. "Someone's coming."
Serqa grabbed the jars and ran back up through the waves. They burst out the door, but they left footprints behind them. Betet said, "Go, I'll say that I spilled the wash water."
Ermentherna gaped at the water dripping on the floor. “Magic!”
Betet gripped her broom and swept up their footsteps. "Wet magic." Serqa and Ermentherna ran into the pantry as Stheno stormed through the hallway.
They all held their breath, but Stheno only yelled briefly and stormed away.
Serqa put the jars on the tiled floor. She said, "These belong to someone who has gone into the deep earth."
Ermentherna crouched down. "Oh, I have a picture of her." She pointed at the face of the screaming woman. "In one of the books father sent me. Remember."
Serqa nibbled on her lower lip. She hardly dared ask, because books were so very dear, but that night Ermentherna came again with another vellum book.
They opened the book and looked through it. In the middle, there was a picture like the faces painted on the jars. Serqa read aloud the story of three sisters, the Gorgons: Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa.
"There's another one?" Betet stared at the picture. "Two seemed like plenty." Even though Ermentherna didn't understand a word of Khemet, she nodded in agreement.
At the end of the story, Ermentherna looked over the wall into the garden below. "Those are all people."
Serqa closed the book. "Yes, and the hero took her head." She went quickly from the edge of the roof overlooking the garden to the short wall that separated the roof of the gymnasium's row house from the next. She sat on the wall. "We need to find Medusa's head to lift the curse."
"But it's in Hellene." Ermentherna held up the vellum book. "Isn't it?"
"Se-Osiris can go through a door in one city and walk out a street in another." Serqa waved at where Se-Osiris sat on his roof and pitched her voice so he could hear the story that she told about his chase through three cities and three countries to rescue Pharaoh's son when Set kidnapped him.
The other girls sat on the reed mats and listened to her by lamp light until time falling from the sky made Ermentherna crack such a yawn that she had to go downstairs to sleep.
In the days that followed, they opened every door in the gymnasium, but it wouldn't be an ordinary door. Although they searched for many days, and one morning the magic even brought woven pillows from reeds to raise their heads as they slept, they didn't find the door.
One day, the cook sent Serqa outside of the gymnasium to buy fish from the market. She saw the people of Cairo as she walked the narrow winding streets. She was amazed at how beautiful everyone was with their shadow souls stretched out behind them and their soul birds shining through their faces. She felt dizzy. She crumbled to the deep earth and felt the shadow soul of Cairo with her knees.
"Little beggar girl. Hello. Hello." A young Hellenic boy with a gold band around his black curly hair peered down at her. He smiled very brightly and held out a copper coin. "This is for you. Because you are a beggar girl and are very hungry and this will make you rich and feed you forever."
Serqa thought, "I am like Isis, when she sat at the well in Pi-Anti and the women gave her crusts of bread, but she blessed them. I need to bless him." Serqa had no idea how to bless someone, but the deep earth went very deep and the future settled down like sand from the sky. As she took the coin, she brushed his hand with the two fingers from her right hand and said, "Your shadow soul will stretch long across the earth and where it falls, green things will grow." Then she twisted and pushed the edge of his shadow soul into the deep earth so that he would be rooted in the land.
"Oh," said the little Hellenic boy. "Oh." He looked down and up again, and she saw the Hellenic Dionysus, who was green like Osiris, flicker behind his eyes. He said, "Thank you."
"Thank you." She stood up and cast her own shadow soul over his. They mingled for a moment, and as they parted, she saw a trace of green in the earth.
She held the copper in her hand and told herself it was a key. She walked slowly. A rat ran across the street into a narrow alley. She ran after it. She called out, "Anubis?" The rat’s shadow soul deepened into the shape of a jackal. She followed them, the rat and the shadow, through the streets of Cairo until she hardly knew where she was. They came to a brick wall. The rat stopped and groomed his fur. She bowed, a little out of breath, and said, "Thank you, Anubis."
There was a wide crack that went up and down in the wall. She put the coin that was now a key into the crack and turned it. A door opened and she went in. She knew from the bright paintings on the walls that she was in the home of Thoth. She called out, "Hello, Thoth. Are you here?" The only answer was the echo of her sandals as they slapped on the blue tiled floor. She came to a library. The shelves were filled with dozens of scroll canisters. She put her hands behind her back so she could resist reaching out. She called out. "Hello. Hello, Thoth."
There was no answer but dust moving in a sunbeam from a window. She looked at the neat rows of canisters and examined the tags. She was very surprised to see one marked with her cartouche.
Below her name was written, "To help your quest." She whispered, "He really can read the future." She took down the canister and opened it. Inside was a long scroll on very old papyrus. It crackled as she unrolled it. She saw that it was the Book of Thoth. There was red thread dangling halfway through the scroll. She unrolled it until she reached the thread. It marked the rite to make one that had gone into the deep earth an Akh, which is to say alive. She held her breath, and for a moment she really wanted to bring back her father or maybe her mother, but she knew that the rite shouldn't be used in that way. This was for her quest, not for her.
Her heart felt both sorrow and happiness in that moment, which made her heart feel somewhat dizzy in her chest. Still, she wanted to be polite as Isis. She said to the room. "Thank you!" She put the scroll canister carefully in her woven bag. She walked out the way she came. As she closed the door, she found herself in the market and the key was a coin again.
Her stomach grumbled and she laughed. It was such a normal thing. She bought what she had been sent to buy. As she went through the market, she saw little boys and girls with wide hungry eyes. She only had one coin, and she very much wanted to fill her belly. But when Isis was in Cebu, even though she was hungry herself, she fed the hungry there. She told herself that she only had one coin and that was just enough to feed herself, but she knew the coin wasn't meant for that.
She took the coin and she tapped it on the deep earth. She said, "This will make the land rich and will feed us forever." She held it there awhile and then she went to a smiling baker and said, "I would like to buy four loaves of bread."
The smiling baker laughed and gave her six. "You look hungry, sweetling."
Serqa knew that she must be hungry, because everyone could see it. Which meant that she was making the right choice. She gave away the loaves as she walked and didn't look back. So she did not see the smiling baker stop smiling and let out a long breath as the shadow soul of Cairo stretched and grew a little bigger.
That evening, as Ra slipped away over the horizon, Serqa skipped up the steps to the roof even though she had had little to eat. She waved at Se-Osiris and his tall servant under the reed woven shade. The tall servant waved back, but Se-Osiris sat very still and looked at the horizon. However, she noticed that he was sitting closer. She called out, "Good evening."
The tall servant called back, "Good evening!" and he went about making Se-Osiris more comfortable in his chair.
She turned to Betet, "See what I have." She showed the canister tag to Betet.
Betet said, "What does it say? I cannot read it."
Serqa stopped. It had never occurred to her that Betet could not read Khemet. Finally, Serqa said, "It's for our quest. See, there is my cartouche. The magic is helping us. Here, I will show you how to read what it says. Now we just need to find the things it lists. They poured over the rite with Ermentherna, who looked grim and offered to ask her father for the brass ankh and the silver mirror. Betet looked even grimmer and said, "The cook has myrrh, cinnamon, vervain, and footprint of Isis." She swallowed. "I will get them from the locked part of the pantry."
Serqa rolled up the scroll and put it away. "Now we just need to find the head."
Ermentherna looked less than thrilled.
"We need the head or it won't work." Serqa patted Ermentherna's shoulder.
Ermentherna sighed, but did not argue. Betet grinned. "It can't be worse than skinning an eel. Those things are nasty." She made a peeling gesture and Ermentherna rolled her eyes at her. They giggled in the night.
In the morning, Cackling Geb woke Serqa with his laughter. As she opened her eyes, she smelled a plate of bread, still warm from the oven. It sat on the bricks between Serqa and Betet's mats. "Betet, Betet look."
Betet sat up. "I really like this magic." She bowed to Cackling Geb. "You're a much better father than my old one." She tore into the bread, but at a look from Serqa, she said, "Thank you," to Cackling Geb. "It's," she chewed, "really good." They ate most of it, but Serqa left a crust for Anubis to feed her father and mother in the underworld.
They looked again at all the doors and jumped in all the pools of light and pushed things in all the cracks they could find, but they didn't find a magic door. Serqa was philosophical about this. "It's not the right time. When the magic is ready, we'll find it."
They needed to find it. Euryale had started weeping at the end of every class that she taught. Stheno was aiming to hit with her rocks.
Serqa helped Ermentherna write her father, who critiqued her use of certain words contextually, but after a second letter, he sent her what she'd asked for. Betet gathered other ingredients from the pantry, while Serqa distracted the Cook with a love story that had her saying, "Oh, I never. Then what happened."
Finally, they had everything, but no head. They sat on the roof together and stared at the items. "Now what?" said Ermentherna.
That was when the trap door to the stairs below crashed open and Stheno raged onto the roof followed by weeping Euryale.
Stheno looked at the jars sitting in front of Isis, who now sat on a small broken jar that Serqa had found behind a building one day. She saw the pile of spices and sacred implements. She saw the velum books on the bricks and she screamed, "How dare you! You insolent worthless girls." She threw the spices and the objects off the roof and they flew far into the garden. She smashed Isis against the low wall. Isis broke into three pieces.
Serqa cried out, "No!"
Stheno struck her across her cheek in a blinding crack. Serqa fell to the ground. Stheno yelled, "You. This was all your idea."
Euryale picked up the jars. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
Serqa said, "Please, we're trying to help you." Euryale shook her head and went down the stairs.
Stheno snarled. "Ermentherna pick up your books and go downstairs." She gripped Betet by the arm and dragged Betet down the stairs. The trap door closed with a loud click and Serqa could hear the sound of a cross bar going across the door from below.
She pounded on it and she called out, "Please, we're trying to help you." But the trap door didn't open. Not that night and not the next day as Ra sailed across the hot sky. There was no shelter on the roof from Ra's jealous hot rays. There was no water either. Serqa had known hunger, but now she knew a thirst that dried her tongue so she couldn't speak the magic. She could only mumble it through crackled lips as she clutched the three pieces of Isis to her chest and sip at her own tears until she had no more to weep.
Finally, the sun set and she panted at the cool on her blistered skin. She thought she felt something soft and wet on her skin. She thought she heard a low rumble voice whisper, "Shh, shh, it will be wonderful."
When she woke in the morning, she lay on a rope strung bed that swayed as she moved. She blinked up at a woven reed shelter that blocked the sun. Swaths of brilliant red cloth were draped on the reeds and swayed gently in the breeze. An urn of water that dripped with moisture sat on a painted plaster chest next to the bed. She poured herself a cup of water and drank every drop of it. There was a basket of dates and figs. She ate them until juice ran down her cheeks. She stood up on the rug that stretched over the roof and said, "Thank you magic. You've saved my life." This was when she saw Isis, thick stripes of resin wet along the breaks, but in one piece. She knelt in front of her and whispered, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Cackling Geb laughed. He scampered across the roof and grabbed Isis. He ran across the low wall. Serqa chased after him. "Hey, come back." She chased him across one roof, two roofs, three roofs. He jumped the narrow distance to another set of row houses. She jumped after him. He ran across the city and she followed him as Cairo's shadow soul grew small in the rising sun. They came to a cemetery, where the living lived with the dead. She ran after Cackling Geb through the sandstone structures and into one of them. Inside a set of stairs went up. She following Cackling Geb as he laughed and scampered up past the cemetery and up past the circling birds. Finally, they reached the single cloud that sat in the sky. On the cloud, a silver horse with golden wings ripped up long blades of white cloud grass from the cloud. A gold boar with bronze wings snuffled in the cloud dirt for cloud mushrooms. Cackling Geb raced across the cloud and jumped into the blue sky.
Serqa heard a woman's laughter, but she couldn’t see Geb.
Serqa was very tired. She sat down on the cloud, which was quite soft and springy. The horse whickered at her and lipped at her cheek. She said, "Hello." The boar snorted at her. She was thirsty, so she scooped up a bit of cloud, which tasted slightly sweet and very refreshing. The horse lipped at her cheek and nibbled at her hair. Serqa laughed because it tickled. At her laughter, the clouds waved as if in a wind and she saw the white wrapped figure of one of the dead. The boar snorted and glared at her with large red eyes as she got up. His wings moved restlessly. She knew in that moment that the boar and the horse were Medusa's sons and they guarded her body as best they could on this cloud.
Cackling Geb poked his head through the cloud. He held a roughly woven sack. It hissed as he carried it. "Oh," said Serqa, "But I don't have any of the things that were in the Book of Thoth.
Cackling Geb tilted his head as if to say that he couldn't do everything. Serqa nodded, because that was true. She knew the words and Euryale had the jars and the spices were spread out in the gymnasium's garden as an offering.
Suddenly, thinking of the statues in the garden, she wondered if this was a good idea, but then she thought of Isis, who had pitied her brother Set in the final battle and spared his life. "Which was why her son, Horus, cut her head off, but her father, Thoth, grew her a cow's head," she explained to the horse and the boar. The boar glared when she mentioned heads being cut off, so she supposed he was touchy about that sort of thing. She took the hissing bag, and with her eyes closed, pulled out the head, which she put next to the white wrapped body. She took the horse's mane and braided it into a silver mirror. She asked very nicely for a bronze feather from the boar. She twisted it into an ankh.
She whispered the name of Ra as it was written in the Book of Thoth and she asked the magic, very nicely, for help.
Medusa screamed, not like Stheno screamed in rage, but like the little ones at the gymnasium sometimes did in terror. Serqa didn't think. She gathered Medusa in her arms, and rocked the much larger woman back and forth. "Shhh. Shhh. It's okay. I have you."
After what seemed like hours, Medusa pulled away from her. She stretched and the white wrappings pulled away. She said, in a voice that sounded like a snake and an eagle and the wind from a far off sea, "Thank you."
Serqa didn't look up. She didn't want to be turned to stone. She felt strong arms wrap around her and Medusa leapt off the edge of the cloud. Serqa could see great wings move around them and they flew. The boar and the horse flew around them. The horse galloped and played, while the boar flew in a straight line. Medusa touched down on the roof of the row house. Serqa said, "Oh, but you've put me down on the wrong roof." But Medusa had already flown away.
Serqa smiled at Se-Osiris, who was looking at Isis in his hands and therefore had neither turned to stone or even noticed Serqa and the flying snake woman, flying horse, and flying boar. She cleared her throat, because she didn't want to startle him. She said, "Hello, that's my Isis. May I have it back? The magic saved me, but I need to help my friends."
Se-Osiris looked up at her. He was very old and frail, and he was crying. He said, "This was my daughter’s." He wiped away at a tear on his cheek. "I gave it to her. It was all she took when she turned from me to marry a Hellene." He drew his finger along the cartouche written on the bottom of Isis’ foot. "When I turned my heart away from her." He laughed and he cried. "I have sent messengers looking everywhere for her child since I learned that she went into the deep earth." He held his hand to his face over his eyes. "I sent Aions over the wall because I took pity on you and hoped someone would take pity on her child." He took his hand away again. Great tears trembled on the edges of his red rimmed eyes. "You were here all along."
"Oh," said Serqa, who for once wasn't sure what to say. She hugged him instead, but carefully, because he was old. Although, it turned out, not really as old as she'd thought, just unwell, and little old. She'd thought he'd been thousands of years old, and he wasn't that old at all. His tall servant, Aions, turned out to be his son and therefore Serqa's uncle. Aions came up soon and hugged them both. He said, "When I fixed Isis, I should have looked at her foot. Or when I left bread or the lamp or," He picked Serqa up and swung her around so that her feet flew through the air. He laughed and hugged her and said, "You sound just like Asnofre. She’d say, ‘You have the soul of the earth little one,’ and she’d tickle me. What a wonderful day." He tickled Serqa. "Isn't it a wonderful day? Say it."
She laughed and said, "It’s a wonderful day,” and “Oh, stop, I’m laughing too hard," and "I need to help my friends."
But the magic wasn't done yet. Betet looked over the low wall at Serqa. She said, "You did it. The gymnasium is in chaos. Medusa flew through the door and, and Euryale laughed and Stheno laughed and they all flew into the garden. Look."
Serqa looked and the three women were perched on the wall together and were making some sort of garment that dangled between the three of them down the wall. Medusa was veiled, but she was easy to recognize. Serqa helped Betet over the wall. She said to her new grandfather and uncle, "This is my sister, Betet. We were goddesses together in the womb of the night."
Se-Osiris cried a little again and Aions said, "Asnofre spoke in exactly the same way." He clapped his hands together. "And now I have two nieces, where once I had none. Fabulous day." He hugged them both.
Later they had Ermentherna over for lemon water and honey cakes, because there were certainly no lessons that day. The teachers were all sitting on the garden wall, while the students were taking rides on the flying horse and boar.
It was later, when Medusa, her eyes wrapped in funeral bindings, held her class on love, compassion, justice and forgiveness that Serqa had the idea. She passed a note to Ermentherna and Betet that read, “The magic wants us to turn back the statues next.”
So, they did.
Chapter 2: [Podcast] The Little Goddess
Like when Isis went to live in the marsh and begged for food for her baby, Serqa went to live on the roof of the Gorgos Sisters Hellenic Gymnasium for girls. Like Isis, she had a curse to lift and steps to take through the world that was full of magic if you’d stop to tell the tale.