Chapter One

 

City of Memphis, Reign of King Djoser: approximately 2646 BC

 

"I need you to build a Temple to Nuit, Goddess of the Sky," King Djoser intoned as he took a date from the bone platter held up by the young black haired girl. He bit into the date. "The priests tell me she wishes her temple to be built outside Djeba," he said as he bit into the date again, finishing the dark fruit.

 

The High Priest Imhotep merely inclined his head. "The Temple shall be built, my King. Nuit's Temple shall have walls of lapis lazuli, to represent the dark night sky with the stars," he said as he picked up an amber necklace and held it up to Ra's light.

 

Turning the amber necklace, Imhotep noticed how the amber caught Raís light and reflected Raís golden fingers.There was an ant caught in one of the large honey colored amber stones; it had been carrying a beeís wing when it wandered into the path of the ancient sap dripping down the pine tree.

 

"It has been said that the Physician, High Priest and Architect Imhotep's skill is known over to the Eurphrates and Tigris Rivers," King Djoser said, indicating that Imhotep should accept a faience cup of barley beer.

 

"I am pleased that my efforts do not go unnoticed," Imhotep replied, taking the proffered cup from a young girl who offered it to him.

 

"Efforts? Here sits the world's renowned physician and he refers to his miracles as 'efforts!" King Djoser exclaimed. Imhotep merely inclined his head. Djoser continued. "Your treatment of the swollen belly of my son was nothing short of a miracle," Djoser commented. "Tell me, how did you treat the Hawk in the Nestís illness?"

 

"Usually, when the lower right side of the abdomen swells and grows hard, there is nothing anyone can do," Imhotep said, taking a sip of his beer. "When a corpse afflicted with swollen belly was brought to me, I took the opportunity to examine the area of the swelling. I noted that there is an appendage at the bottom of the intestine that was swollen," Imhotep replied.

 

"So you found a way to remove the swollen appendage!" Djoser exclaimed again, pleased that he had discovered what Imhotep had done. Imhotep merely inclined his head.

 

"In your son's case, the Gods decreed he would live. But the Gods decreed that your mother's daughter's son would join the afterlife," Imhotep said, a bit sadly.

 

"Such is the will of the Gods. Neb had work to do in the afterlife," Djoser said, sipping his own beer. He motioned for a courtier to bring a scroll and hand it to Imhotep. "Your fame has increased my stature, and the stature of Egypt. I am pleased to honor you with another title: Vizier." Djoser said, as he took another date from the platter offered by the slim young girl.

 

Imhotep inclined his head as he accepted the proffered scroll. "Thank you, my King. Architecture is one of my stronger suits," Vizier Imhotep told Djoser as he took a sip of the barley beer.

 

"The priests say Nuit's Temple needs to be built by the the time the large star in the north is next to the full moon. Did that make sense?" Djoser asked Imhotep.

 

Imhotep nodded. One of his myriad duties to the King was that of High Priest and Physician. And as High Priest, he'd known astrology like the back of his hand. Djoser was telling him Nuit's temple must be built by the beginning of the second flooding of the Nile. In other words, herTemple must be built in less than two harvests of the dhurra wheat.

 

Imhotep's first love was architecture, although as a priest, he'd been trained as a physician. As a child, he loved to take stones and build small things. Later, he'd figured out how to cut the stone, and make the stones fit together to build a wall taller than his head. At that point, his imagination had soared and he began to dream of building soaring stone buildings which would pierce the belly of Ra.

 

It was he who had designed and supervised the building of the miraculous step pyramid--the stairway to the afterlife--on the Plain of Giza at Saqqara. Already, the traders from across the Great Green had brought word to their own people about the miraculous vision Imhotep had had in building the pyramid.

 

Giza was where priests before him had trod upon this plain for thousands of years, thousands of harvests. Legends handed down from antiquity said that Giza had been inhabited for fifteen thousand years--a staggering number in Imhotep's mind.

 

Imhotep brought his mind back to the present. Nuit's Temple needed to be built--and quickly. He could use the leftover stone from the quarrying of the Step Pyramid and float the stone downriver to Djeba. He knew her temple would need to be small, no larger than an arrow's cast across. He would festoon the walls of the temple with murals and stud the walls with the stone of Nuit--lapis lazuli.

 

The dark blue stone with golden flecks was the earthly embodiment of the velvety dark night sky studded with stars. Lapis lazuli was a rare stone, traded from far beyond the Tigris River from the mines in those distant lands. Lapis was a royal stone, and only royalty could wear the precious dark blue stone as jewelry. And lapis lazuli would be used--albeit sparingly--in Nuit's Temple.

 

"When can I see the Temple's plans?" Djoser now asked Imhotep, interrupting his thoughts.

 

"They shall be ready by the next full moon in less than a week. Her Temple needs to be built in less than two harvests of the wheat," Imhotep replied.

 

"I shall provide the lapis lazuli for her Temple myself," Djoser said, and motioned for another young girl, her eyes the color of honey and hair the same color, to bring him a faience glass of barley beer.

 

"That young one's hair and eyes are the same color," he noted to Imhotep, the changing of the subject indicating the King wished to talk of something else now that the demands of the priests had been discussed. He took a sip of his barley beer, twirling the faience around so as to catch the sunlight. "What's her name?"

 

"I have named her Khutenptah. It is said she was washed ashore at the mouth of the Mother Nile when a tempest stirred the waters. Pieces of a wooden boat washed up with her. She came laden with the amber stone you adore so much," Imhotep told his King.

 

Indeed, this was true. Khutenptah had been washed ashore, bleeding and frightened, during a storm on the Great Green. Tied to her waist were large leather bags of the golden colored amber stone and it was this floating stone that had help keep her afloat after the flimsy boat in which she and her people had traveled the rivers in had broken apart in the stormy sea. She was the only survivor.

 

Imhotep had had pieces of the boat retrieved and after a few months of studying them had concluded that the boat, although made of wood, had been constructed shoddily. He knew wood floated and wood could be used to make boats but reed boats were much easier to handle.

 

"A fitting name for your servant," Djoser said, sipping his beer. Imhotep was High Priest of Ptah and it had pleased him to name this young girl for the God Ptah.

The King had fallen silent, watching Khutenptah and the large amber stones she wore as a necklace. She now danced for King Djoser, a silent dance, a sinuous dance, a dance without drums, without singers.

 

Imhotep took advantage of the King's distraction to think his own thoughts. He thought about how to build the small Temple to Nuit in Djeba. Yes, the walls would be studded with lapis lazuli.

 

But there was a flicker on the edge of his mind. Each time he imagined Nuit's Temple, he saw a great shaking of the earth, and three of the Temple walls falling inwards. He saw his own Step Pyramid, and three other Pyramids, their sides smooth, exploding into bits of dust, billowing the dust clouds up to meet Ra, and Nuit.

 

Imhotep saw a man, distantly (and he realized with a start that he was looking at the future). This man was tall, dark haired and dressed in flowing black clothes edged in silver (and at the sight of the silver edged black clothing, Imhotep gave an inward shudder of awe, for he felt this man was an earthly Son of Nuit). The man was placing a lapis lazuli ring in the Temple, right where Imhotep planned to erect Nuit's Shrine.

 

And Imhotep felt that this ring was--or would be--very important to help ward off what Imhotep felt was a catastrophe looming in the Son of Nuit's lifetime.