IT WAS THE beginning of a new season, and the sounds, smells, and sights of new life were in the air. It was the time of year when everyone and everything, including the gods off in their own private celestial Kemet, awoke from the stupor of the previous season to face the upcoming months. And the wolf god Khenti Amenti was no exception.
He was almost always on the prowl for something interesting to do, except for when he was sleeping, eating, or wheedling his way out of a problem, and as for exceptions, today wasn't one, either. He woke up very early in the morning, just as the sun was rising; gave a yawn and stretch, as well as a good scratch behind the ear; and then started off on his trek around the royal palace, looking for anything that had the potential to arouse his curiosity.
He nosed around each door he came to, sniffing to see whose room it was as if he didn't know already, and prodding to see if any were unlocked. Most were shut tight, but for a few, which he immediately opened and entered. The first one he wandered into he recognized as a guest room; Queen Hathor's sister, Lady Selket, had been staying at the palace for a while, even though, according to gossip, he knew the two goddesses didn't much care for each other. The scorpion goddess wasn't present, despite the earliness of the day; it looked as if she hadn't even slept in her bed the previous night. Khenti knew her reputation, as well as where she was likely to be, if not here; Lord Sokar doubtless had a late visitor last night at his own palace. Khenti snickered. Wouldn't it make God Ra's day to find out where his daughter spent many of her nights. It wasn't his job to keep the god informed, though; much more interesting to watch things as they unfolded on their own. He left her room and continued on his way.
The next room he checked out was Lord Thoth's. He couldn't believe he'd left the door unlocked, as the god rarely left it open for anyone to enter; most strange. He peered inside, and saw Thoth nowhere, yet had the feeling he must be nearby; perhaps it was a trick of some sort. He decided against entering, since fooling around with the belongings of the Lord of All Wisdom and Magic could be a messy affair. Khenti left the room as it was and went on down the hallway.
Just about every other door was locked except Lord Sobek's, and he didn't even bother looking in there; Sobek did barely anything except guard, and thus had nothing very intriguing to look for. Khenti was just about to find something else to do when he tested one more door, found it unlocked--and this made his heart leap, as it was Lady Hathor's room.
His tongue lolled out and his ears pricked. He'd been in her room plenty of times, but never alone. What an opportunity! If anyone had anything interesting to look at, it would be her! Excited, he nudged the door open with his nose and peeked inside, glancing around to see if she was present. She wasn't. Even her serving girls were gone. Excellent! Everything was ripe for the taking. He wandered in and looked around at her tables and boxes and mirrors, and then his gaze fell on something which made his eyes widen and his heart leap even higher.
Her bow. And her quiver. Full of arrows!
Barely able to control his glee, Khenti dashed to the quiver and carefully pulled out one arrow with his teeth, dropping it upon the floor and sniffing at it critically. A gold-tipped one; an arrow of love. He pulled out another and examined its lead tip. An arrow of indifference. Looking at himself in one of the larger standing mirrors, he placed the quiver upon his back--cumbersome thing that it was--and held her bow in his paws as if ready to shoot. He laughed aloud now at the picture he made. Putting the arrows back where they belonged, he sighed and set the quiver upon the chair where he'd found it, and turned his attention elsewhere. Perhaps Lord Horus's rooms were unlocked. Maybe he could try on the king's headdresses.
Khenti stopped and peered back at the quiver. It shimmered, and a faint breeze gently blew upon the feathers of the arrows. They seemed to be calling to him. Aim me. Fire me.
He couldn't simply turn away from them, now that his opportunity was here. He'd thought so himself, when he'd first come in here, hadn't he? To just walk away from them would be such a waste! He couldn't resist; he went back to them, picking up the bow and quiver; then, changing his mind, he took only several of the arrows from their container, leaving the rest behind. Perhaps, if Hathor saw it there she would think nothing of her missing arrows, and would only think she had misplaced her bow; besides, with the arrows in his jaws and the bow upon his back, he didn't think he could carry any more. How did someone like Hathor manage it? Smiling happily, he made certain the bow was slung snugly over his shoulder, clenched the arrows fast between his teeth, and left the room and the palace, tail wagging.
Where to go first? That was what concerned Khenti the most, aside from what would happen if Hathor found out what he'd done. Oh well. He could always talk his way out of that later. She wouldn't kill him, since she needed him for gossip. He searched around for anything interesting to shoot, leaving the city and trotting down to the river. There he saw a beautiful little antelope drinking from the water. A lion, which must have wandered in from the desert, lay not too far away, snoozing off its last meal. Without a second thought, Khenti fitted a gold arrow to the bow, aimed as best as he could, and fired.
The arrow hit the antelope, which looked up with a bit of surprise. A tortoise waddled slowly by. The antelope's tail shot up and its eyes brightened; it followed intently after the tortoise. Khenti shot again, this time hitting the lion. It awoke, shaking its head, to see the antelope wandering off after the tortoise, and, rising, followed as well, its long tail darting from side to side. The three of them disappeared beyond the treeline, toward the desert.
Khenti slapped his leg and rolled around, laughing. Now this was entertainment! Placing the other arrows back in his mouth, he continued on his way, seeking fresh targets.
* * * * *
Khenti had no way of knowing it, but Hathor had by now returned to her rooms, tired from the day's duties, and was considering taking a short nap. She had a few of her ladies remove her headdress and jewelry when she glanced around and frowned, noticing something odd. She waved the women away, walking over to one of her tables and examining it and everything around it. Her quiver lay upon the chair, where she'd left it. But...her bow was missing. And the number of arrows in her quiver didn't seem right either.
She looked around a bit more. Perhaps someone had moved them. She questioned her ladies, but they shook their heads; they hadn't touched her belongings. This made her frown even more deeply. It was very rare that she misplaced things on her own. How could she do so with something so important, and not remember where she'd put it?
She went back to her door and called on the guard, Lord Sobek. He came to face her and bowed.
"Lord Sobek," Hathor said, "have you seen anyone come near my room? Anyone who didn't belong?"
"No, Majesty; however, I only started my shift a short while ago. Is anything amiss?"
"Well, my bow is missing, and I believe a few of my arrows, as well."
"Perhaps you have misplaced it, Majesty?"
"I doubt this...though I can't seem to think of what else may have become of it...oh, well, perhaps it'll show up someplace. I'm going to take a short nap. Have my ladies wake me if I'm needed."
Sobek bowed again. Hathor retreated back into her room, too tired to worry much about it at the moment.
* * * * *
At the moment Hathor never would have guessed that the location of her bow was over Khenti's shoulder, and if she would have, the fact would have angered her greatly. Khenti wasn't thinking about that right now. He was too caught up in "spreading love," as he put it to himself.
He'd gone about doing this for a while now, causing birds to go a-twitter over snakes, snakes a-hissing over mice, mice a-squeaking over lynxes. One wouldn't even want to think of what the lynxes were subjected to. As the day wore on, though, he started to tire of this petty play, and sat down on a rock, pondering his next move.
"Spreading love to all the little animals is all right," he murmured to himself, "but one does get bored of it after a while. I want some excitement. Something big. Something different. Something--"
The faint sound of singing interrupted his thoughts, and he fell silent, listening. A distant laugh came from the direction of the trees. Curious, Khenti jumped down behind the rock and peered over it. Coming along a trail he had just used were two figures which he soon recognized. Two minor deities, Unnu the hare god, and Unnut the hare goddess. They walked along arm in arm, lightheartedly joking and chatting with one another. They made a perfect couple. Everyone was certain they were to be engaged sometime soon. How in love they seemed!
On thinking this, an idea seeped into Khenti's mind, and he began to grin. An idea about Unnu and Unnut. Certainly, it wasn't an evil idea...he would merely test the depth of their love, to make certain it was strong, to be sure they really belonged together. He would be performing a needed service! Surely this would be understood by the others!
Justifying his decision, he hid again, trying to contain his laughter. He knew what he wanted to try out next. All he had to do now was wait for just the right somebody to come along...and then he would see how true love really was!
* * * * *
Hathor couldn't sleep after all.
The thought of where in the world her bow might be bothered her too much. Several times she got up and searched diligently around her quarters as her ladies watched, to no avail, and this was nagging at her so greatly that she couldn't doze off, no matter how tired she happened to be. If it wasn't here, then it had to be somewhere else. She didn't want to go all the way outside the city and look for her bow all along the river! Maybe Sobek would do that for her. Sighing, she made her way back to the door.
"Lord Sobek?" she called, and he turned to her and bowed.
"Could you do something for me, Lord Sobek?" Hathor asked. "I hate to send you off like this...but I'm just going insane wondering where my bow could be. I've searched my rooms from top to bottom and it's not here. I have no idea where to look. I took a walk along the river today, and I suppose there is a slight chance I could have dropped it..." her look grew skeptical "...though I do not believe this for a moment. Still, I have nowhere else I can think of. Could you call someone to replace you at your post, and seek around for it for me?"
"I near the end of my shift anyway, Majesty," Sobek replied. "With your permission, it would not hurt to leave a few moments early."
"Of course, Sobek. Thank you. Perhaps now I can try to get a bit of sleep!"
With a heavy sigh, she watched Sobek bow and walk away, motioning to another guard to take his post. She went back into her room for the second time, and though it was pointless, once more searched through every nook and cranny. The results were expected. No bow.
She almost felt like pulling out her hair. Where could that blasted thing be?
* * * * *
Wouldn't those two ever separate!
But they didn't. Unnu and Unnut might as well have been joined at the hip, he thought to himself with annoyance. They never left each other's company. How could he ever do what he needed to do when they wouldn't even leave one another alone for one moment?
However, he knew his patience must soon be rewarded. Unnu offered to go find some new flowers for Unnut as those she wore upon her head had almost wilted beneath the blazing sun, and he left her sitting upon a fallen log. Perfect! Khenti got up in a crouch and readied the bow. He heard footsteps. Someone was coming this way--perfect, yet again! With glee, he aimed at Unnut and discharged an arrow. It hit her just as she looked up to see who was coming toward her space. Khenti ducked again, peeping out to see who the object of her attention was. He almost burst into laughter when he saw who.
Khenti put his paw to his mouth and stifled a laugh. Poor Sobek! Wasn't it just his luck to be the one! This was simply too good to be true. He peered out from behind the rock again to watch the show.
Unnut stood as Sobek came into her line of vision, holding her wilted flowers in her hands. Her already large eyes grew even larger. The crocodile god caught sight of her and approached, bowing as he came.
"Greetings, Goddess," he called. "I've come to ask if by any chance you've seen a bow--for arrows--someplace along the river."
Khenti immediately paled, yet kept silent.
Unnut only gaped at Sobek for a moment before she seemed to realize that he'd asked her a question. "I--oh! Wh--what was that you asked again, Lord?"
"I'm looking for the bow of Lady Hathor," Sobek repeated, frowning.
"Oh. N-no, I...I haven't seen it." The color rose in Unnut's cheeks and she pressed the wilted flowers to her breast.
Sobek just gave her an odd look. "Well...thank you for your assistance, Goddess." He bowed a second time, turning to leave. Before he could, Unnut had hurried forward and grabbed onto his elbow. Sobek glanced down at her hand with surprise, then back up at her face.
"What are you doing?" he asked, in a slightly annoyed tone.
"Stay a while," Unnut pleaded, large eyes moist. "See, it's a beautiful day. Let's walk among the trees together. Lord Unnu never has to know."
"Lady, please let go of my arm!" Sobek snapped, trying to pull free, but Unnut only clung to him tighter. She drew herself close to him and reached out for his face.
"Please, stay for just a little while!" she begged. By now Khenti was laughing and crying at once. "I'm certain Unnu will understand once I tell him. Since I first saw you I could tell. We were meant for each other. You feel it too. I can see it in your eyes!"
"Let me go! You're crazy!" Apparently dropping all sense of decorum, Sobek now yanked on his arm, dragging Unnut along with him. "Are you high on poppy or something? You've gone mad!"
"Mad with desire for you, Lord!" Unnut replied, before Sobek finally managed to break free. He ran faster than Khenti had ever seen anyone run, back for the palace. Unnut followed, shouting all the while.
"I can see it in your eyes, in the way you talk, in the way you yell at me!" she cried. "We were meant for each other! Come back so I can prove that we were...!!" Her voice trailed off as they disappeared past the trees, their footfalls echoing into silence.
Khenti could hold it back no longer and burst out laughing. He rolled about on the ground a long time before he could finally sit up, gasping and panting and wiping at his eyes. What a spectacle! He was certain this could make for good blackmail, in the future. Sobek would do anything to keep this under wraps--not to mention Unnut, once she found out that they weren't meant for each other! Climbing to his feet, still weak with laughter, he slung the bow back over his shoulder, placing the arrows once again in his mouth, and continued on his way.
Now he had to locate Unnu!
* * * * *
He soon found the hare god near a patch of wildflowers, busily picking the prettiest and most colorful ones for Unnut, whistling as he did so. He didn't notice Khenti come up, he was so engrossed in what he was doing. There was no one else around to shoot, however, and Khenti felt disappointment. He would have to distract Unnu to get him to go somewhere else to meet someone. He sniffed around on the ground before locating a few decent-sized rocks. He picked one up and hurled it toward the trees. It landed far off with a rustling noise.
Unnu's long hare ears shot up and he looked in the direction of the sound. His nose twitched in rabbit fashion as he stood, listening, but nothing else happened. However, Khenti knew he must be burning with curiosity, as he abandoned his current project and went off to investigate. The wolf followed silently behind, keeping his eyes open for any prospective mates.
He hadn't long to wait. Unnu broke through near a stream--where the goddess Bastet sat talking with a small wildcat. The little creature dashed off into the undergrowth at Unnu's approach, but Bastet smiled at him as she did with everyone. Great timing!
Khenti fired an arrow, intending to strike Bastet; it was about time someone set her up with somebody else. Nothing worse than an old-maid goddess. However, as it sailed through the air, the little wildcat shot out of the bushes and ran past once more, startling Unnu so much that the arrow struck him instead. He shook his head and looked around as if he'd felt a sudden breeze. Bastet spoke up, catching his attention.
"Greetings, Lord Unnu!" she said. "What brings you here today? Are you looking for Lady Unnut?"
Unnu turned back and stared at her with surprise. Then this expression slowly melted away, and he replied softly, "Unnut cannot compare to yourself, most beautiful Goddess."
Aha! So Unnu did have the silver tongue everyone said he did! At last Khenti had some proper competition. He ducked behind the weeds to watch unseen. This hadn't turned out exactly as he'd planned, yet it would still be interesting to witness.
Bastet, naive thing that she was, merely looked puzzled by Unnu's comment. She tipped her head and frowned. "Me? But I thought that you and Lady Unnut were to be..."
"Say no more!" Unnu said, falling upon one knee and taking her hand in his own. For the first time since learning of Hathor seeking her bow, Khenti felt a prickling of anxiety. Bastet's father, God Ra, had been adamant about not allowing her to marry or even be with another man, yet. What if he were to find out about this!
"Lord Unnu?" Bastet asked, sounding uncertain.
"From the moment I saw you here near the stream, Goddess, I knew that we were meant to be," Unnu said. "Forget Unnut. She means nothing to me now that I've seen you."
"But Unnu!" Bastet protested, drawing back. "Lady Unnut loves you very much! She'd be heartbroken if you were to tell her this!"
"Whoever said she had to know?" Unnu asked, taking her hand again. "We don't have to tell her. It can be our secret. We can meet here every day and be by ourselves. Tell me, what do you say? Will you pledge me your heart, forever, lovely Goddess?"
Bastet gave him a baffled look.
Unnu clasped her hand to his chest. "Say that you'll run away with me!" he exclaimed. "We can elope, and no one will ever have to know!"
"But--but what about my father? God Ra?"
That's just it, Khenti thought with growing distress. What if he finds out! This thing's going a bit too far!
"Even him," Unnu replied. "Even your father. No one has to know. Not even--"
"Unnut!" Bastet cried.
"You're right!" Unnu exclaimed. "Not even her!" He suddenly noticed that she wasn't even looking at him at all, but rather staring openmouthed over his shoulder. He followed her gaze, Khenti doing the same. The wolf nearly swallowed his tongue when he saw who stood there.
It was Unnut! She had Sobek by the hand, though he was still trying to break free from her unusually strong grip. As soon as the four of them noticed each other they all stopped what they were doing and gawked at one another in shock.
"Unnu?" said Unnut.
"Unnut?" said Unnu.
"Sobek?" said Bastet.
"Bastet?" said Sobek.
There was a long pause.
And then everybody erupted.
Khenti had to cover his ears with a wince, they all clamored so loudly. Unnu and Unnut both wanted to know what in the world they had missed, and Bastet and Sobek both wanted to know what in the world was going on. And they were all arguing about their choice of paramours.
"You? And Lord Sobek?" Unnu blurted. "He doesn't even have a heart!"
"I do so!" Sobek retorted.
"What about you?" Unnut shot back, tears welling up in her eyes. "Look at her--she isn't even your style. A cat and a hare! Tell me you could do better!"
"What do you mean by that?" Bastet asked, her own eyes widening and growing damp. "And you? Lord Sobek!! Whatever are you doing with her? You don't even love anybody!!"
"I was doing nothing!" Sobek yelled, trying to defend his faltering honor. "It was her--she's the one who's done everything! She must have been dipping into the poppy juice once too often!"
"WHAT ARE YOU INSINUATING?!" shrieked Unnut.
"It would only make sense!" Unnu shouted. "For you to fall in love with HIM!"
"Oh gods." Bastet put her hands to her eyes and started sobbing. "I want to go home!!"
This continued for several moments before a fifth voice--a new voice--shouted above the din, "SILENCE!!"
All arguing ceased. The four--plus Khenti, still within the weeds, and now more baffled than ever--turned once again. This time the wolf did swallow his tongue, and started choking.
"Uh--oh," he whimpered, slinking back into the weeds as far as he could, which didn't seem nearly far enough.
Lady Hathor stood before the group, hands on her hips and venom in her eyes. She carried her quiver, as if she had been searching for its companion. She glared from one to the next of them before she spoke.
"What in the name of Ra is going on here?"
The foursome stared back for a moment, then all of them started trying to talk at once, each telling a different version of the story. Hathor finally scowled and quieted them down again, asking each one in turn to sum up what had happened in as few words as possible. Firstly she turned to Sobek, and ordered him to start.
"I was looking for your bow, Majesty," Sobek explained, "just as you told me to. I came upon Lady Unnut sitting by the river. I asked her if she had seen your bow; she told me no, and I started to leave. This was when she grabbed my arm and--" his face actually flushed red "--started--propositioning me, most boldly. Of course I had no mind to take any part and tried to return to the palace, but she wouldn't let go! I have no idea why I could not break free of her--she must be drugged!"
Hathor turned to Unnut before she could protest. "Lady Unnut? Your story, please?"
"What he said is true," Unnut admitted. "At least, up until the DRUGGING part! I was sitting here waiting for Lord Unnu to return to me, for he'd gone a few moments earlier, to get me some flowers, and Lord Sobek came along. I can't see why he sees nothing in me! I wished to give him my heart but he would have nothing of it!" She covered her eyes and started weeping.
"But he certainly could use it," Unnu quipped. Sobek shot him a dangerous look and Unnu cringed back.
"I was near the stream, talking to the cats," Bastet said. "Lord Unnu came along and I was wondering why he was here, so I asked, and all of a sudden he started talking this nonsense about running away with me and Lady Unnut not having to know!"
"UNNU!" Unnut wailed, half despairing, half infuriated.
Unnu cringed again. "You can blame me? When you're being such a wench as you are today?!"
"And you, Unnu?" Hathor prompted as Unnut's face went crimson.
The hare god shrugged. "I was looking for flowers, like Lady Unnut said. I heard a noise among the trees and was going to investigate when I saw Lady Bastet--a vision of beauty, most beautiful Goddess!--and was forced to tell her of how I felt! Why she cannot believe me, I do not know!"
Hathor herself looked mildly insulted at hearing her sister proclaimed more beautiful than she was, but let it pass. "A noise?" she echoed. "You said you heard a noise?"
Hathor's voice grew suspicious and her eyes narrowed slightly. "What kind of noise?"
Unnu shrugged again. "I don't know...a sort of rustling noise, in the grass. Not too far from where Lady Bastet was. I thought perhaps she had made the noise, calling out to me in her love!"
"I heard it," Bastet protested, "but it wasn't me!"
"Odd," Hathor murmured. "Almost like someone was leading you."
The other four stared at her, speechless.
"And my bow missing, at the same time." She started turning slowly, so as not to draw too much attention to herself. "And my arrows. I thought it looked as if a few were missing. But I wasn't sure. I thought perhaps I'd simply misplaced them...though why I would have done this, I had no idea." As she spoke, she now advanced silently toward the weeds. Khenti cowered flat to the ground, ears pressed back with fear. Unnu, Unnut, Bastet, and Sobek, noticing the direction Hathor took, followed her lead. "Now I wonder who could have taken my bow and arrows and used them so carelessly?"
"I wonder!" the other four chorused, closing in.
"It couldn't have been one of you," Hathor continued. "Oh, no. That would make no sense. So it had to have been someone who wasn't you. Someone both clever enough to remain hidden all this time, yet foolish enough to make the mistake of messing around with my belongings. Someone bored enough to want to get into all this trouble, and stupid enough to think he could get out of it. And I know who that someone is!" she concluded, and her hand whipped out and swiped aside the weeds.
There, cowering in hiding, paws over his head, was Khenti Amenti. He shook so hard the grass rustled and his teeth chattered. As soon as he noticed that his cover had been broken, he peered up between his toes, saw the five hostile faces glowering down at him, and offered a weak smile and a tiny laugh.
"Eh...heh heh," he murmured uneasily. "H--hello, noble gods and goddesses. Of course, you're all intelligent enough to realize this is all just a big misunderstanding...right? I'm certain you're all generous enough as well, that we can work this out like civilized adults...right...?"
"I'm sure we can!" Sobek snarled, grasping Khenti by the scruff and hauling him out as the wolf let out a yelp. The furious crocodile god looked ready to swing him through the air and into the river when Hathor put out a hand and stopped him.
"No, wait," she ordered. "Leave him to me. I have a better idea." A grin spread across her face, a grin Khenti did not like. "A much better idea."
The others seemed to like the look on her face, so Sobek let Khenti down--still not letting go of his scruff, however--and they all followed Hathor back to the palace, dragging Khenti along with them. He had to trot quickly to avoid wearing the fur off his backside as they went.
This day had not gone very pleasantly, he thought to himself as he winced and tripped and hastened along. Not very pleasantly at all!
* * * * *
Several days later Lord Thoth heard a faint scratching at his door. He went to open it and in limped Khenti Amenti, grumbling and muttering to himself as he slowly worked his way to the god's bench and hauled himself up, setting himself down with a plop. Thoth shut the door, frowning at him with a puzzled look.
"Lord Khenti?" he inquired. "What is the matter?"
"What's the matter?" Khenti grumbled, scowling darkly. "He asks me what's the matter. I'll tell you what's the matter. Better yet, I'll show you." So saying, he held up his forepaws for the god to inspect. Thoth bent closer and saw the blisters upon blisters covering the wolf's paw pads. He blinked with surprise.
"What caused this?"
"Better yet, ask who caused this!" Khenti snapped, irritated. "And then I'll tell you--the cause was Bastet, Unnu, Unnut, Sobek, and Hathor!"
"They did this to you?" Thoth asked, incredulous, as he pulled down a bottle of unguent and a roll of gauze.
"Yes they did. But I blame Hathor, mostly, because it was her bright idea."
"Her idea to what?"
Khenti glared at him as if he were in on the joke as well. "To make one thousand gold and one thousand lead arrows, that's what!"