Friday, July 29, 2011

"The Wrath of Amun" -- Installment from the novel

The next installment of "The Wrath of Amun." We will learn a bit about the poor deceased woman and the new Chief of the Medjay.

Having assisted with the morning ritual, Qaa with two Medjay escorts headed across the Nile to the verdant fields on the East bank. They found Semti, with his wife and children, tending an emmer field; he was lowering the shaduf into the water channel while his wife and children weeded. Qaa motioned to the man he wished to speak with him privately. Off to the left of the emmer field, there was a small personal garden; the plants appeared to be barley, radishes, leeks, and onions. As a farmer in service to the temple, he also had a few goats, sheep, and geese, for his family’s consumption, grazing in pens in front of the mud-brick house. He was a small, wiry man dressed only in a loincloth, flint cutting blade with a wooden handle tucked into the waist, bare feet caked with mud; Semti barked orders to his family to keep working. He carried himself like a man who was accustomed to being obeyed.
“You are Semti, father of Iput, the woman who was murdered at the temple?”
“I am. Who are you, hem netjer?” Semti looked up at the imposing figure, sporting a reed switch tucked neatly into the waist of his kilt.
“I am Qaa, the new Chief of the Medjay. I have been called to Waset to look into the death of your daughter. Did you see your daughter on the evening of her death?”
“No, Medjay. I had worked all day in the fields and had another long day ahead of me.” Semti bowed low before Qaa.
“Was your daughter happy in her marriage?”
“Unas was divorcing her. He came to me and asked to send her back. She was barren; what other use is there for a woman except to pleasure her husband and provide him with children. She was trouble all her life; I told him she was his wife, not my responsibility. I had no use for another mouth to feed.” Semti seemed untouched by Iput’s murder.
“You say she was trouble. Did you beat her as a child?” Qaa’s stomach lurched, remembering the abuse he had seen on Iput’s body.
“I had to. She wouldn’t cook, do her chores, work in the fields. How else could I get her to do anything?” Semti looked to Qaa for sympathy, man to man.
Qaa was outraged. He tried to keep his voice measured and his anger in control. “Did you tell Unas how to make her obey?”
“Of course.” Semti smiled broadly. “He needed to know how to handle her. Unas always did like the wild ones. Her mother was like that when I took her the first time. Screamed and kicked, almost bit my ear off. She still has some fight left in her, but I too know how to use a switch.” He chuckled to himself.
In one swift motion, Qaa withdrew the switch from his waist, raised it above his head, and struck the farmer a sound blow across the cheek, drawing blood. Qaa fought hard against lashing out in anger, preferring combat in battle, but intentionally inflicting pain on a woman was something he would not tolerate.
“If you have lied to me, farmer, I shall return and shall not stay my hand at just one blow.”
After traveling back across the Nile to the West bank, and still in the company of the two Medjay, Qaa found Unas at one of the temple metalworking tents. Wearing only a loincloth, he was sitting on a stool in front of a brazier, tongs in hand, a glowing piece of metal in the charcoals. Even from this distance, the heat was palpable and breathing was an effort. Qaa motioned to the overseer to bring Unas to him. The overseer spoke to Unas who put down the tongs, stood, and compliantly followed the overseer’s instructions.
Qaa appraised Unas, having seen the brutality on Iput’s body. The man was about his own age, but at least a cubit shorter. He had powerful hands and shoulders from working the various metals, and bore numerous burns and scars, both fresh and healed. His hands had the familiar appearance of crocodile skin, brown, scaly, and toughened from the heat of the crucibles and hearths. He sported a dagger at his waist, bronze with a bone handle. He moved with the swagger of a man too self-confident; he exuded an air of importance though he was only an apprentice.
“I am Qaa, the new Chief of the Medjay. I am looking into the death of your wife. Did you know she had left your home to go to the temple the night she died?”
“I was asleep. She must have slipped out; she did that often. I suspected she had taken up with another man. I had no use for her, she was barren and I was going to divorce her.”
Qaa’s temper simmered just below the surface of his calm exterior. Semti had put him in a foul mood. This man’s wife is brutally murdered and he speaks disrespectfully of her. He withdrew the switch and slapped his own palm with it. “Did you beat her often?” Qaa’s voice had taken on the tenor of a confidante, one man to another.
“She would not submit to me. I would have to bind her hands and feet in order to mount her.” Unas laughed.
Qaa could feel his anger dangerously close to exploding. Even a reed switch, in his hands, could inflict serious injury. “She may have been more receptive if you had been patient or kind with her.”
Unas leaned in to speak low, so only Qaa would hear. “Chief Medjay, do you have a woman? Trust me when I say they need to be beaten regularly. How else can you make them submit?” He stepped back and continued to speak. “I now have a woman who knows her place and will do whatever I demand. Is that not the duty of a woman?” He smiled broadly.
Qaa wanted to retch. Brought up in an abusive home, married to an abusive husband, what chance did she have? Were all the men in Waset this brutal toward their women? He could not contain his anger any longer. “In the future, apprentice, when you see me, I expect you to bow before me, showing your respect. Medjay, hold this man while I interrogate him further.”
Each Medjay grabbed an arm of Unas and held him tightly. Qaa began beating Unas on the back, just as Unas had beaten his wife to submit to his needs. “How does it feel, Unas, to be powerless? Do you think she enjoyed her beatings? If you have lied to me, I shall be back. And if I hear of you beating any more women, you shall wish I had killed you.” Qaa’s chest heaved and sweat trickled down his back, having taken out his anger on the man who had inflicted much of the torment on Iput. He again raised the switch above his head.
“My Chief that was twenty lashes.” The Medjay saw the wrath in Qaa’s eyes and fell silent. His rage spent for now, he lowered the switch. Qaa straightened up, wiped the bloody switch on Unas’s loincloth, and slid it into the waist of his kilt.
After taking a deep breath to bring his emotions under control, Qaa spoke smoothly and authoritatively. “Medjay, you may release him.” When the Medjay released Unas’s arms, he fell, in a crumpled heap at Qaa’s feet. He looked down, spat on him, and turned back to the temple, followed by the Medjay.

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