First Time in Memphis
As the sun rose from the horizon, the sleeping Memphis city welcomed a brand new day. The land seemed distant and empty in the morning mist. Nile, the perpetual bringer of life to Egypt, glittered beneath the golden sunlight. Its dark green waters rippled, and its banks full of green papyrus plants.
Memphis was both the largest city and the capital of Egypt. It was founded by Menes, the pharaoh who unified Egypt. In the south, Thebes abided with the traditions of the worship of Amun; in the north, Memphis was the intersection point of various parts of Egypt and was immersed in knowledge from Asia and the Mediterranean Sea.
The wind from Giza highlands blew past the defensive pyramids. It travelled along the endless desert and into the gradually awakening Memphis. The city streets were lined with tall date palms and palm trees. People of different colors and in different styles of dress were walking along the streets. There were Libyans, Nubians, Canaanites, Cretans, and Cypriots… Different tones and languages formed different feelings. The traders promoted their goods with a smile. There was textile from the East, honey from the Hittites, Cretan pottery, and glass bottles from Lebanon. Everything could be found here.
Among the colorful crowd, a travel-worn and weary young woman was asking a local resident for directions to a temple. She seemed to be around sixteen to seventeen years old. She was petite and perhaps due to her rushing about, her initially clean face was now covered with a layer of yellowish brown dust, making it difficult for people to see her real complexion. People could only see that her large amber eyes were intelligent and spirited.
Once the young woman had gotten an answer from the locals, she immediately rushed in the direction given.
In Memphis, the rich and the poor were not segregated. Small dried brick huts can be found right beside towering houses. There were alleys beside spacious and beautiful garden villas that were lively with people and animals travelling about. Goods laden camels and donkeys were the most common sight. There were noises of shouting, haggling, and laughing everywhere in the city.
As the young woman was going past a house, a man suddenly rushed out. He was covering his face in pain and fell down right before her. A woman also rushed out close behind him. She quickly helped the man up and apologized to the young woman.
The young woman glanced at the man’s greenish black face and a realization dawned on her face. She reached out to touch the man’s face. Then, she said to the woman, “Does he feel burning pain on his face?”
The woman was surprised and said, “How do you know?”
“That seems to be it… It seems that he was stung by the Desert Shadow Scorpion.” The young woman frowned.
The woman grabbed onto her sleeves, as though seeing a savior and pleaded urgently, “Since you know what causes my husband’s pain, do you have a way to save him? Please save him! Please, I beg you!”
The woman considered for a moment and said, “Give me a basin of cold water. Also, I need a clean cloth and an earthen jar.”
The woman staggered into the house and quickly prepared the things she asked. Then, she watched the young woman take out a few herbs from the small box she was carrying, put them into the earthen jar and shake them with water. When the clear water had gradually turned green, the young woman brought the jar to the man and indicated to him to drink it.
The man took the jar doubtfully and hesitated for a moment before drinking it in a gulp.
Soon after, something unbelievable happened… The man lifted up his head. His expression was that of surprise and joy as he called out repeatedly, “This is incredible, my face doesn’t hurt anymore, my face doesn’t hurt anymore…”
The woman hugged him excitedly and also said something similar. Seeing that the both of them were engrossed in their joy. The young woman couldn’t help pursing her lips and planned to disappear while they were distracted.
However, just as she was about to continue forward, she suddenly heard a deep voice coming from behind her.
“The foreign girl over there, wait a moment…”
She turned in the direction of the voice and saw an upright rectangular palanquin underneath a large palm tree nearby. There were two strong Nubian slaves standing on each side of the palanquin, and a man dressed as a personal attendant stood behind it. Beneath the white rolled-up curtain of the palanquin sat a man dressed like an Egyptian nobility. He wore an official uniform of thick and smooth white linen, and a small figurine of Goddess Maat hung from his collar. He seemed to be around twenty-seven to twenty eight years old. His skin was fair which was rare among Egyptians. His face was clean and handsome. His features are beautiful yet masculine. He was looking at her gently with a pair of dark brown eyes.
“Did you call me?” The young woman pointed at herself.
His lips curved into a smile. “Yes.”
“What is the matter?” The young woman paused her steps and asked.
“Your healing skill is very unusual, so I would like to ask for your help.” He spoke directly, “Help me save someone.”
The young woman was a little surprised. She tilted her chin up noncommittally, “Save someone? Who?”
“You don’t have to know who he is, but I believe that your healing skills can save him.” His smile seemed to be concealing something.
The young woman shook her head indifferently. “I don’t know you, why should I agree to help?”
The man smiled and said, “Then, I shall introduce myself. My name is Asher. I am the vizier for the current Pharaoh.”
Vizier? The young woman widened her eyes in shock. This can’t be. The young man before me is actually the vizier? She had always thought that viziers were men with white hair and goat-like beard on their chin, just like the vizier of Babylon. How could there be such a young vizier?
“What about you, young lady from Babylon? What is your name?” Asher smiled cheerfully as he took in her disbelief.
She was still looking at him with a suspicious gaze. “Are you… Are you really the Vizier?”
At this moment, the personal attendant whispered, “Sir, is this wise? If Fehketi the Great Priest knew about this, he would be furious. This clearly shows that you don’t trust him… Furthermore, the young lady is a Babylonian…”
“These do not matter. The most important thing is to cure his illness.” Asher interrupted him.
“I don’t care who you are. I have a lot of important things to deal with.” The young woman replied with a calm face as though she was completely disregarding the vizier.
“Wait!” Asher’s smile was unreadable, “I now suspect that you are a spy from Babylon, so I need to detain you for interrogation.”
“Hey, you have seen that I was saving a man. Why do you have to detain me? What evidence do you have to accuse me of spying?” The young woman stared at him angrily.
“I don’t care. Perhaps you were helping him to gain his trust and then obtain information through him. Someone…”
“Hey… You are distorting the truth!” The young woman interrupted him in panic. Annoyance apparent on her face. “You are a vizier, how could you threaten me in such an underhanded way?”
“Then do you agree to help?” He smiled confidently.
The young woman considered for a moment. She seemed to surrender and sighed, “Alright, bring me to him. However, I can’t guarantee that I can save him, so don’t blame me later.”
“Of course.” Asher smiled cunningly. “So, can you tell me your name?”
“Maya!” The young woman replied sulkily. She felt that she was very unlucky to meet with such trouble when she had just saved a person out of kindness. She felt that she should have listened to her father’s repeated reminder – Never, ever be a busybody.
“Alright, Maya.” Asher gave her a smile of relief. “Now, follow me.”
The vizier’s residence was very beautiful. The walls were white and the door frame was decorated with a red poppy wreath. There were cornflowers and Persea trees with yellow flowers by the window. The decorations were elegant. The path by the door had two palm trees, and their foliage covered the balcony. Calendula flowers were planted near the door to the house. Their golden petals scattered on the floor like a beautiful carpet. Maids were hurrying in their direction. Each maid was carrying a lotus flower. They wore traditional Egyptian sheath dresses called kalasiris which accentuated their curves.
Asher pointed to the nearest maid, “Maya, this is Nali. She will bring you to your room. You can rest for a while.”
Maya looked at the maid named Nali. She had caramel brown skin and black eyes. She was young and pretty, and she seemed lovely. Nali smiled shyly and pointed before her, “Miss Maya, please let me bring you to the bath.”
Maya looked at the dust on her body and followed Nali without hesitation.
The evening breeze blew into the courtyard. Asher was enjoying sumptuous food while waiting for Maya to arrive. A beautiful maid was gazing at his handsome face in silent admiration while diligently serving him newly pressed wine.
“Master, Miss Maya has arrived.” Nali announced softly.
Asher looked in the direction of her voice and saw Maya partially hidden behind Nali.
The dust on her face was gone, leaving behind a smooth ivory skin with a rosy tint. Her unkempt wet black hair let loose, and the wet strands clung to her neck, making her seem spirited. The feature on her pure face appeared softer under the glow of Memphis sunset, and her clear amber eyes revealed her sincerity. She wore a lapis lazuli necklace around her slender neck. Her beauty reminded him of the first ray of light in a spring morning, of a lotus’s first bloom, and the sparkling Nile.
There was a brief gleam in his eyes, and he smiled. “The Egyptian dress really suits you.”
Maya had formed a low opinion of his character, so she took the seat furthest from him. She couldn’t help being surprised by the dishes before her. There were a large variety of bread, vegetables, fish, beef, geese and cucumbers. There was every food imaginable. The rich aroma of spices waft over to her, causing her to salivate.
“By the way, what did you give the man? A person stung by the Desert Shadow Scorpion would usually die within fifteen days. There is no cure. I didn’t expect that you were able to save him,” He asked casually.
Maya took a piece of bread and took a bite, “The Desert Shadow Scorpion tends to hide among sage plants. A lot of people do not know this but sage is a good antidote, so I always bring it with me.”
“You are very knowledgeable.” He said with a slight smile.
She swallowed the bread in her mouth and retorted, “Why else would you use such a despicable means to force me to work for you.”
He chuckled and did not deny what she had said. “Then, it seems that I have a good eye for talent.”
Maya grabbed a piece of bread angrily. “I can only do my best. I can’t guarantee whether it will work.” If not for the duty entrusted to her, or the fear of causing unnecessary trouble, she would have never allowed him to threaten her.
He frowned and asked, “Do you know who you will be treating?”
Maya looked up and stared at him. His smile did not reach his eyes. His dark brown eyes were like bottomless wells, revealing nothing about his emotions. She had not given much thought previously as she was furious. But now, thinking about it, him being a vizier of Egypt at such a young age meant that he was not an ordinary person. So the person he wanted to save was definitely not an ordinary person too. Similarly in her country, the mages were frequently hired to curse members of the royal family. Does this mean… Her heart was beating rapidly, does it mean… “Someone in the palace?” She said softly.
There was a flash of surprise in his eyes before he returned to his calm demeanor, “You’re right. The person is in the palace.”
“Since the person is in the palace, the priests from the temple should be able to heal him.” She was puzzled.
“The priests…” His gaze turned complex. “Well, the priest couldn’t cure him.”
“How is this possible? Egyptian priests and Babylonian priests are similar. When they were chosen as priests, they were also bestowed with power from gods. Not only this, they were also…” She seemed to realize something and stopped speaking.
“You seem to know a lot about priests.” He laughed but his expression turned a little strange. “However, his illness is unusual. They couldn’t find a cure.”
Maya was surprised, although she did not quite understand what he meant, she seemed to feel a sense of conspiracy.
However, since the person she had to heal was in the palace, she thought that if she could to save him, perhaps he could help her to complete the mission her father had entrusted her with.