Lynda Robinson: Murder at the God's Gate

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Lynda Robinson Murder at the God's Gate
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    Murder at the God's Gate
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Lynda S. Robinson

Murder at the God's Gate

Chapter 1

Year Five of the Reign of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun

Unas, pure one and servant of the god, was late. The last golden light of the sun god's rays inflamed the gold-and-silver inlay on the face of the massive outer pylon gate as the priest skittered inside the temple of Amun. Feeling even more insignificant than usual, he listened to the slap of his sandals on the flagstones. His footsteps echoed off the walls. He glanced up, but the ceiling of the temple was so high that it vanished into darkness.

The evening ritual was finished. Those not in residence within the temple grounds had been filing out of the god's gate for some time. Was he the only one left? He hated being alone in the temple after dark, but he had to put his list of royal artisans where he could find it quickly tomorrow.

Like an ant scurrying between the legs of an elephant, Unas hurried deeper into the temple darkness, past electrum-shrouded obelisks and pylons. He turned right before reaching the sanctuary, threading his way through groves of statues dedicated by kings and high priests. Now he couldn't even hear the fading voices of his fellow priests as they left the temple on their way home.

He passed a lamp stand, its light burning low, and casting uncertain light on the brilliant painted scenes of men and gods in endless registers on the walls. He entered a side room where the linens and oils of the god were kept. His list would be safe here, and he could retrieve it without going all the way to the treasury in the morning.

The room was lined with wooden shelves burdened with the rare oils, unguents, and linens used in the rituals of Amun. Unas wiped perspiration from his shaved head. He rubbed a palm on his kilt and transferred the papyrus roll to his dry hand.

Squinting in the gloom, he retrieved the lamp and set it on a shelf next to bottles of perfume. He reached up and shoved the roll between the necks of two bottles at the back of the shelf. He stepped back and frowned. A pile of linens had been carelessly placed on the floor. Stooping, he reached out for the white folds, then turned his head.

A sibilant hissing made him hold his breath. The shades of dead kings visited the god at night. He was sure of it.

He could hear something right now, beyond the safety of the lamp's glow, somewhere deeper in the temple. What if demons had wandered into the sanctuary? Unas flattened himself against the wall by the door.

The hissing had turned to a murmur, low, guttural, with a background hum. He shivered as the chill of the stone he was pressed against penetrated his skin. Where were those cursed temple guards? Lazy, that's what they were. They lounged around the outer pylons and traded stories and insults with the students on their way to the evening meal.

There was a stab of fear in his gut. He clasped his amulet necklace to ward off evil and took a step out of the storeroom. He couldn't stay here forever. He would slip into the hall and run for the pylons. Unas eased his toes over the threshold and froze.

"Don't be witless. They're camped beyond the border forts where the army won't look for them. Now are you going to help me or not?"

Unas let out his breath and smiled to himself. He'd been a fool again. Everyone said he was too skittish about shades and demons. He recognized that voice, although he hadn't heard it in the temple in a while. And the other, he knew it as well.

Walking down the hall toward the speakers in the room where copies of sacred texts were housed, Unas nearly stumbled as he began to perceive the significance of the conversation. His steps faltered, then halted. His body grew cold, as if his ka, his soul, had flown to the netherworld, taking with it all warmth.

What he was hearing couldn't be real. He rubbed sweat from his upper lip. How could he sweat when he was so cold? The voices buzzed and hissed. They poured dangerous knowledge into his heart until he grew so frightened that he began to back down the hall. His arm hit the lamp stand. He whimpered and caught it before it fell.

Unas stumbled into the storeroom again and closed the door. He gawked at the portal in horror and careened into one of the shelves that lined the walls. The impact disturbed a bottle of oil and he lunged for it. Catching the ceramic vessel before it fell, he replaced it, only to find his foot lodged in that pile of linens on the floor.

He kicked it aside and heard a tear. He went still and listened. If the two in the small library heard him, they would kill him. No one saying such words would hesitate to murder to keep them hidden.

No one came running to kill him, so Unas withdrew his foot. Dropping to his knees, he picked up the linens, but the stack wouldn't move. The lowest piece of cloth was caught under a loose flagstone. He slipped his fingers beneath the stone and extracted the cloth. Something went clink. Something below the flagstone.

Unas pried the flat stone up and slid it sideways to reveal a hole. Bowls, Who had put bowls under the floor?

He picked up the top vessel in a stack of five and held it near the light. Unremarkable. A modest ceramic dish, shallow and painted in a common design, blue on a buff background. Unas's fingers traced the lotus pattern on the inside rim, then paused at a series of ink marks.

No, not marks-words. Words in the cursive script of a scribe. His lips moved as he read, then fell open as his heart refused to let them form the words at the end of the line. His stomach roiled, then cramped, and his hands shook. The bowl crashed to the floor and shattered.

Unas started, then cringed and waited for the two evil ones to come for him. His skin grew clammy, and he lost all sense of the passage of time while he prayed for deliverance. He waited and waited. Nothing happened as he cowered on the floor in the midst of shards.

Finally, when he'd decided that they must have gone, Unas gathered the broken pieces. With jerky movements and an occasional whimper, he straightened the flagstone, the linens, and his kilt. The broken bowl, he must hide it. But not here. If he took it away, perhaps whoever had concealed them wouldn't realize one was missing.

Glancing about the room, he spotted a small wicker box. He emptied it of unguent vials and stuffed the shards in it. After several moments of girding himself, Unas pressed the door open a crack and listened.

He heard nothing but the indefinable sound of the vastness of the temple. He would take the long way out, through the four pylon gates in the direction of the avenue that led to the quay and the Nile. This route would take him farther away from those he hoped he was leaving behind in the temple.

After poking his head into the corridor, Unas melded himself to the wall and trickled along it, then bolted to the innermost pylon. Poking, ducking, and sliding, he made his way to the court of gilded papyrus columns between the middle pylons. As he entered the court, he stopped to listen again. His ears almost hurt from the effort to perceive the tiniest sound.

No footsteps tapped in his wake. No fists clutching knives appeared at his back. The evil ones had indeed left before him. Unas clutched his box under his arm and rushed by four towering obelisks.

Unas hurried past a tall, striding statue of some dead king and darted to the doors in the outer pylon. He squared his shoulders as he spied two sentries standing inside the doors. They stared, but recognized him and opened the portals. The muscles in their arms bunched as they hauled at the weight of cedar studded with bronze and overlaid with gold. He sidled out into the open.

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