Ihi & The Fish Of Ra
TITLE: Ihi & The Fish Of Ra
GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, comedy.
SUMMARY: "Amazing how such a little thing can cause such big trouble!" An original myth.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2006.
LENGTH: 14,100+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild adult language, mild adult themes.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Certain characters are from Egyptian mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Egyptian mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2006 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the other Kemet short stories and/or the Kemet/Egyptian mythology as I make use of it in my writing; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. Long ago I read a snippet of a myth in which the child Horus killed the sacred fish of the god Ra. I haven't been able to locate this story again just yet but decided to put my own spin on things. In my version of events, Horus has been replaced by his youngest son, Ihi, and basically everything else is pretty much made up. Let's see exactly where this one takes us. By the way, is it weird at all that I feel terribly guilty for the fate that befalls the poor fish in question...? Also, isn't it odd how whenever I write comedy I seem to lapse into omniscient POV? And one final oddity, notice how often I use the phrase "ooh'ed and aah'ed" in this story? Strange. Translations--Iunu is the City of the Sun (there is earthly Iunu, and Celestial Iunu, where the gods live), whereas the Paut Neteru is the Great Company of the Gods ("neteru" meaning "gods"); the Duat is the Hell part of the underworld; the "ka" is a person's spiritual double, while "heka" basically means magic power.
FOR A CHILD, the great palace of the sun in Celestial Iunu was practically a wonderland, and for Ihi that was no exception.
Ihi was doubly blessed in that, number one, he was a direct descendant of the House of Iunu, and number two, his parents and relatives were known to spoil him silly, therefore he usually got everything he wanted. Fortunately, he wasn't turning out to be a spoiled brat so far (as the wolf god Khenti Amenti had murmured might happen, after which he was promptly slapped by Ihi's mother Hathor), and so most of the gods enjoyed his presence, except of course for those gods of permanently sour temperaments.
When Ihi had been born, Hathor had expressed a bit of disappointment that he wasn't a girl, as she and her husband Horus already had four sons. She was mollified, however, when as Ihi grew a little older he never protested her braiding his sidelock, and applying his kohl and rouge and other makeup, and dressing him in the finest little outfits that could be woven. Their other four sons had by now outgrown this stage and had to be restrained like wild cats whenever they had to be dressed up for anything, so to again have a child who simply smiled away while she prettied him up was more than enough to keep Hathor happy. Of course, afterwards Ihi would usually run off, smudge his new clothes, smear his makeup, and muss up his hair, but that just gave her all the more reason to do him up again.
Ihi was introduced to God Ra, the father of his mother and the great-grandfather of his father (yes, things were often rather strange in Celestial Kemet), shortly after his birth, so the sun god could bestow his blessing, but since then the two had not met again. Being the sun god was quite a busy occupation, and in those days the underworld serpents were causing quite a bit of trouble, so Ra was usually in no mood to entertain guests. The day finally came, however, when all the gods of the Paut Neteru and their families were invited to the sun palace for a great banquet, during which everyone would renew old ties and catch up with the latest gossip (yes, even gods like to gossip--especially gods). Although the neteru were a particularly social bunch, some of them lived in very far-off parts of Celestial Kemet and didn't get to see each other very often, so the gathering was certain to be an interesting one.
It also gave Hathor a good reason to pretty up all five of her sons, and after all of the howling and squirming and wailing of the first four, Ihi's good cheer was a welcome relief. She ignored Imseti, Hapi, Qebusenuef, and Duamutef as they all ran off to catch a ride on the family barque, and made doubly sure that Ihi's appearance was perfect since the others' looks wouldn't be perfect for long. She wove gold strands into his sidelock, and dressed him in the nicest little white kilt and gold-gilded sandals, put on the prettiest earrings and bracelets and pectorals that would fit him (specially made by Ptah), and then took her time applying his makeup until he looked like he could have been the child Ra himself. She smiled and Ihi smiled back, cheeks dimpling, and then she put everything away, made sure her own appearance was presentable, and took his hand and headed off for the barque herself.
They were nearly late in leaving, but Horus knew better than to argue, and they managed to set off just in time. It wasn't long before the celestial river was bedecked with the different boats of the various neteru; they usually traveled in their own ways, but Ra was known to be partial to boats, and such a grand gathering called for a special entrance. Horus sat underneath the canopy and talked over kingly-type matters with an official of his while his four older sons ran back and forth along the decks of the boat, yelling and clambering over everything. Hathor sat beneath another shade set up near the prow, and Ihi kept her company, cheerily playing with one of his toys as he sat atop a mound of pillows. Hathor just stared at him dreamily during the entire trip. He may not have been a daughter, but he was just as good as one, at least for now.
Trumpets sounded when the barques began to drift within sight of the palace of the sun, and the children on all of the boats hurried to flock forward to get a good look. Ra's palace was an impressive sight and never ceased to amaze those who didn't get to visit it often. Its size was massive, its columns and gateway almost impossibly tall and wide, a myriad of multicolored pennants fluttering atop the wall which was engraved with images of sundisks and hawks. The entire thing seemed to glow as if made of heated gold, and even at night it was brilliantly lit, so that some of the permanently sour-tempered gods muttered to themselves about how anyone could even sleep in such a place. Everyone ooh'ed and ahh'ed, as the palace seemed even more brilliant and awe inspiring today, and the crews of the boats hurried to prepare them for docking as they sailed past the front of the palace and toward where Ra's own ship, Millions Of Years, was usually kept.
Millions Of Years wasn't there right now, as one of the lesser sun gods had taken it out that day in Ra's place so the humans wouldn't panic (humans tend to panic when the sun doesn't rise, go figure), and Horus's four older sons pouted a bit as they'd been hoping to see it. Ra's own servants appeared and caught the ropes as they were tossed out, tethering the boats to their posts and helping to ferry everyone to the bank beside the palace. Already a great group was gathering, the goddesses chattering incessantly and the gods exchanging a word or two. It was the first time some of them had seen each other in months or years so they made quite a noisy bunch as they were escorted into the palace itself, and the noise only grew louder as more of them arrived, one batch after another, and they made their way down the wide hall toward the main court where the banquet was to be held.
Horus spoke with his half-brother Anubis, and Lord Thoth, while Hathor of course had to seek out each of her numerous sisters and ask them for the latest news. She wasn't much interested in what personal things they had to say, though the gossip they had to give always made her ears prick, and she made sure to store it all away for future blackma--er--reference.
Bastet: "Oh Sister! I'm so glad you made it! Father's been hoping to meet with little Ihi again, you see..."
Hathor: "That's lovely, that's lovely; has anything been going on here lately--?"
Bastet: "Oh, you mean scandalwise? Well, Father had the side court all refinished, and a new fish put into the pool, and one of the servants was a bit careless with it so Father set him to work in the kitchens and he's been bitching the entire time--OH MY!!--did I say that out loud--?"
Sakhmet: "What news! You realize I detest that gossipy stuff, that's more along your lines!"
Hathor: "But surely you have something to share? Like, I don't know, perhaps Ptah hasn't been terribly--oh--satisfying lately?"
Sakhmet (turning crimson): "It's only because you're my sister that I let you get away with that!! Things with Ptah are just fine! Though he has been working on his latest project lately, a little too much...I admit I did get rather cross with him and smear some gazelle guts on it, but just that once--"
Maftet: "I expect you're seeking gossip again--? I've been doing nothing but hunting, mind you, and Lord Upuat's been doing nothing but guarding the Duat, like always. Sorry to disappoint you."
Hathor: "But don't you ever come across anything interesting then? Surely your lives can't be THAT dreadfully dull...?"
Maftet: "Has anyone ever informed you that you could use some more tact--? The only thing I can really think of to share with you is rather distasteful...well, I can tell you won't leave me alone until I share it...pretty much, it's that Upuat told me that last week when he was called down to fight off some demons, he was locked hand-to-hand with a particularly fierce one, when it suddenly broke wind and that actually made him laugh--I know you won't believe me, but he laughed again when he told me this, so there's your proof..."
Selket: "Sister, must you honestly ask me that? My entire life to you is gossip, isn't it?"
Hathor: "Well...I suppose it is. Never mind, then."
Maat: "Sister! You must let me tell you about the wonderful new spell Lord Thoth recited to me the other day--"
Hathor: "Er--is that Isis over there? I'm sorry, I have to be going now..."
Everyone was busy talking and chattering by now, and the children were left to do whatever they wished; Horus's four older sons ran off after Khenti Amenti, who promised to show them a hole he'd dug which went "straight down to the Duat!" The rest of the older boys followed, and the girls went running off to seek out a bedroom to ransack in search of pretty clothes and makeup. Ihi, the youngest of the lot, was left behind in the main court, peering around at all of the oblivious adults, and after a few moments he decided to go exploring for himself.
He toddled along the main hall, ooh'ing and ahh'ing at the giant columns, smiling at the paintings and reliefs of rivers and boats upon the walls, and giggling when he saw his reflection in the tiled floor. He turned into a side hall just before he could reach Ra's personal throne, and meandered in and out of several rooms, touching a chest or a box here and there but otherwise leaving things alone. Furniture and personal belongings didn't interest him much today. He found himself wandering out into another courtyard, and looked around at the numerous exotic trees and plants, only mildly curious. He stopped not far from the rippling pool with its mandatory number of lotuses--Ra's favorite flower--and chewed on his thumb, trying to decide what to do next. Maybe it was time to give that big sparkly throne another look.
Something went blip in the water and Ihi turned to look. The lotuses were bobbing more than they were a moment ago. His curiosity returning, he crept toward the pool and peered down into it. His own large brown eyes peered back up, and he smiled from ear to ear, shaking his head so his sidelock dangled and glittered.
Then he blinked. There were now four eyes looking up at him.
Ihi's own eyes grew, then he realized that he wasn't seeing only his reflection, but something under the water as well. His mouth went wide, and the mouth of the creature staring up at him did the same, opening and closing over and over. Ihi and the large fish looked at each other for a long time, both equally interested in the other.
Ihi's smile slowly returned. He raised his hand to wave. "Hello!" He leaned closer to get a better look, seeing how the fish's gills moved. "What?" he asked, and when it let out a bubble that went bloop, Ihi clapped his hands gleefully. "Bloop!" he named it, because Hathor had never considered it important enough yet to teach him what a fish was, and for all he knew, this strange creature really was called a bloop.
He reached a hand into the water and carefully patted the bloop on the head. It opened and closed its mouth several more times, its large protruding eyes following him this way and that. Ihi got up, hurried over to one of the trees, and plucked off a small fruit; he hurried back to the pool and dropped it in, and the bloop promptly snatched it up and swallowed it. Ihi began giggling and fetched more fruits for the bloop, and it ate every single one. He squealed and clapped his hands again. "Good bloop!" he declared; after all, his mother always called him a "good boy" when he ate all of his supper, so surely this was a very good bloop.
"Ihiiii...!" the voice of one of his older brothers came drifting to him after a while spent thus. "Where are you? Mother will thrash your tail if you don't come out! Ihiiii...!"
Ihi sighed and pushed himself to his feet. "Goodbye, bloop," he said, waving sadly at the bloop, and it opened its mouth and blooped in response. An idea striking him, he leaned down toward it again. "Bloop still be here when I come back?" he asked, and it blooped again, which was good enough for him. He smiled and waved at it once more--"Bye!"--and turned to go running back inside to meet his brothers, even though he knew his mother would never in millions of years thrash his tail. Not that she would thrash his tail on any other boat, either, but still...
Duamutef and Qebusenuef were standing in the hall, looking around. "There he is," Duamutef grumbled, and Qebusenuef hurried over to grasp his wrist and pull him along. Ihi whined a little in protest, his feet not wanting to move that fast. "Come on!" Duamutef called over his shoulder as they all jogged along the hall. "Mother says Grandfather Ra wants to see you. Who knows why, we see you every day and it's nothing terribly special!"
"Dua! You know he'll repeat that to Mother!" Qebusenuef exclaimed, and the jackal-faced boy grimaced. In response he grasped Ihi's other wrist and they both lifted the little boy from the ground, carrying him between them so his feet no longer touched the tiles. Ihi laughed and kicked his legs, promptly forgetting the exchange, just like they'd planned him to.
By now the main court was more ordered and everyone was seated at small tables upon the ground, talking amongst themselves in small groups. God Ra was present now, sitting upon a light throne under a canopy setting at the end of the court, a servant fanning him as the day was quite warm. Thoth stood at his other side and was saying something to him under his breath while the hawk god nodded every so often. The four older boys used to be quite intrigued by the mysteries of what went on in the sun god's palace and between him and his advisors, until one day when they'd insisted on their father letting them tag along with him for a day, and had discovered just how mindnumbingly dull it was to be king; it was far better to just pretend to be king, the boys taking turns being Horus or Set and fighting each other before Hathor ordered them to bed. Ihi, on the other hand, had not been desensitized to such mysteries, and ooh'ed and ahh'ed when he saw God Ra, as it had been so long since they'd last met that he couldn't remember him. He started struggling to break free, his older brothers struggling to keep hold of him, until Ra looked their way with a frown to see what the commotion was. When he spotted them the two older boys gasped and promptly let Ihi go so he fell to the ground with a thud. His head popped up and he let out a yell that rang from column to column, immediately silencing all the chattering going on. Duamutef and Qebusenuef grimaced.
Ra tilted his head to the side, saw the cause of the noise, and furrowed his brow a little. Duamutef and Qebusenuef scuffed their feet and got ready to offer abject apologies, when Ra's eyes lit up and he leaned toward Thoth to whisper something. Thoth nodded and whispered something back, at which Ra sat up straight again and gestured at them. The boys blinked.
"This is Prince Ihi?" Ra called out. When the older boys numbly nodded he gestured again. "Bring him here so that I might see him."
The two boys glanced at each other, then shrugged. They grasped Ihi by the arms again and carried him toward the throne, depositing him on the top step of the dais before descending to a safe distance. Ihi pushed himself to his feet and peered up at the hawk-faced god who was so much bigger than he was, and his eyes grew huge. A finger slowly crept up to his mouth and he started chewing on it.
Ra tilted his head again. "How old is he now?"
"The royal records give his age as approximately two, Lord," Thoth replied.
"He was just barely a newborn when I last saw him," Ra said, and sat up straight. "One should never go so long without seeing their family. Is he learning his lessons properly and behaving himself--?"
Ihi's eyes had been growing bigger and bigger the more that Ra talked, and his stare wandered over the sun god's gleaming pectorals, gleaming armlets, gleaming girdle, gleaming headdress, gleaming sandals--everything about him seemed made of gold, and every time he moved he glittered. A drop of drool fell from Ihi's mouth and landed on Ra's foot; Ra abruptly ceased speaking and looked down at it in disbelief. He glanced up at Ihi again and opened his beak, the older boys cringing away in expectation of a tongue lashing.
Ihi lifted his hand and waved excitedly before Ra could speak. "Bright shiny bird person!" he exclaimed, and the jaws of everyone in the courtyard practically hit the ground. The blood drained even from Thoth's face, and Ra's eyes went wide, his beak falling open. By now, Ihi's four older brothers were hurriedly crawling under the nearest bush while Hathor darted venomous glances around the courtyard in search of them.
Ra blinked a few times, then let out a breath. He peered left, then right, and looked briefly at everyone in the courtyard below, before drawing himself back upright with nearly a scowl. "Well?" he snapped. "I thought this was a dinner! Why has everyone stopped eating--?" And as soon as he said this, teeth were again chewing and fingers tearing at food, though the chatter was considerably less and the eating seemed rather frantic. When Ra frowned at them again they began talking, though it really sounded as if a few of them were simply saying, "Yah yah yah yah!" or "Hm hah hah hm!" rather than anything even remotely coherent. A few others, like Upuat, just gave up entirely and began scarfing and guzzling down everything on their trays. Hathor, for her part, hid her face and looked like she wanted to disappear.
Ra got to his feet and flicked a hand at Thoth. "Make certain he follows," he ordered, and the ibis god nodded, reaching down to grasp Ihi's hand. The three of them left the courtyard and went into the hall behind it, until they were a good enough distance away from the banquet that they might not be overheard. Here Ra at last halted and turned around to glare down at Ihi, putting his hands on his hips. Thoth's fingers wrapped a bit more tightly around Ihi's as the boy's finger went back up to his mouth and the two of them, sun god and toddler god, stared at each other.
"You are certain we are out of earshot of that courtyard?" Ra inquired in an unpleasant voice.
Thoth nodded and bowed his head. "Yes, Lord, unless someone decides to come and eavesdrop."
"That will be their problem if they hear what they do not wish to," Ra scowled, and leaned down toward Ihi, eyes glowing blue. Ihi's own eyes went impossibly big--then he could no longer see, as the big god's hand had descended upon his head, and was busily rubbing back and forth and mussing up his sidelock.
"Is he not the most adorable little godling you've ever seen yet--?" Ra exclaimed under his breath, and he beamed from ear to ear. Thoth blinked and looked like he'd just swallowed his tongue before forcing himself to cough a few times. "I like to hope that I looked such when I was this small! 'Bright shiny bird person'! I suppose I called you some manner of equally childish thing when I was a little mite, didn't I, Thoth--?"
"Er..." Thoth coughed again and grasped Ihi's hand to keep him from crawling up Ra's leg, as Ihi was getting ready to do just that. "I do seem to recall you making comments about the length of my beak, Lord..."
Ra laughed. "This sounds exactly right! He is definitely of the House of Iunu. I can see it all over him." When Ihi reached out for him he smiled and held out a hand so the little boy grasped onto his finger and tugged. "And already his grip is strong! Too bad he's the youngest; I think I'd prefer this one being crown prince. Make a note, Thoth. I plan to spoil this one absolutely silly."
"Noted, Lord. Prince Ihi to be spoiled silly."
"'Bright shiny bird person'!" Ra said again, and Ihi laughed and pulled his finger from side to side. "I have to admit, after a while that sounds better than 'Lord' or 'Majesty' and all that drudge! And here I was thinking this was going to be yet another dull banquet full of simpering flattery. No wonder I hate banquets so much. Hathor disciplines those other boys so, they've become drab little nobles. As much as I may regret saying it, Thoth, once in a while a child should be spoiled, just to keep things interesting. Bastet certainly keeps things interesting, for example."
"Certainly, Lord," Thoth agreed. "Some children should be allowed to nurture their inner hellions."
"Exactly," Ra stated, and when the ibis god let go of Ihi's hand, he toddled forward and attached himself to Ra's leg. Ra took a few steps as Ihi balanced himself on his foot and rode it around gleefully. "Make another note, Thoth," Ra said, and Thoth pulled out his pen and palette, "to insist that Hathor bring this one over to visit me every chance she gets. I'd like to make certain he gets the proper kind of lessons and doesn't turn out all bland like so many others do. If I can get her to agree to this--and I likely will, since I know how dreary she finds it babysitting children all day long--then I'll make sure he learns how to spar, and sail, and read the way every self-respecting neter learns how to do..."
Thoth was pretending to make marks on his palette, just to keep Ra happy. He nodded after every comment. "Taken note of, Lord." He lowered the pen and put on a quizzical look. "Do you think Prince Ihi should be returning to his family now? Surely they've noticed how long we've been away..."
"True," Ra said, his optimism fading; he let out a sigh as if suddenly weary. "How about this. Speak with my daughter before she leaves, and see if Horus won't agree to let Ihi stay over a while. I'd at least like him getting better acquainted with the household, if he's going to be spending a lot of time here."
Thoth had an odd feeling, but he hid it and bowed. "Very well, Lord. Should I prepare a cot for him--?"
"No, I believe Hathor won't take well to him staying overnight just yet. I'd just like him making himself at home until this banquet is over, since knowing her, she'll have the other four in bed soon enough. No wonder they've turned out as they have. I never once made it to bed on time when I was young." He gave Thoth a dark glare. "You had best not share this information."
Thoth shook his head. "Of course not, Lord. This news is safe with me."
Horus had no problem when Thoth asked that Ihi be allowed to stay at the banquet longer, though of course Hathor began to steam a little, and the other four boys let out loud protests--"Why shouldn't WE be allowed to stay out longer?"--yet in the end, Ra's request won out, and Hathor had one of her servant ladies take the four older boys away (though in truth the servant lady simply led four of Ra's male servants, who carried one slumbering prince each, as they were quite unconscious by nightfall) while Ihi remained with the rest of the older gods and goddesses. They glanced at him occasionally as he wound his way around the various tables, giggling the entire time, and even Upuat's normally gloomy expression lightened a little as the boy made a point of introducing himself to absolutely everybody remaining in the courtyard. Within no time at all they were chattering away again, and Ihi won many smiles as he passed back and forth. He enjoyed himself as well, seeing as he'd never been allowed to stay up so late before.
"I do hope none of you have overindulged yourself here tonight," Ra said after a while, the other gods peering up at him. "For I had hoped that we might meet here again tomorrow evening, as I've imported a rare delicacy which I should like very much to share with all of you. I would have ordered it done tonight, but it needs just the right amount of preparing. You realize how such things are."
In truth, most of them didn't realize, as they didn't usually do their own cooking, and those who did usually either just roasted their catch on a stick over a fire, like Upuat, or simply ate it raw, like Sakhmet; but they nodded just the same.
"Good." Ra sat back. He looked down at Ihi, and Thoth noticed that he was just barely able to suppress a smile when the little god waved up at him. "I do hope you've enjoyed yourself here tonight, little one, and perhaps your mother will allow you to attend again tomorrow." He cocked his head. "Perhaps even she would allow you to stay overnight just this once...?"
Hathor's face went red and she opened her mouth to protest. Horus leaned toward her and whispered something in her ear. Her face went even more red and her eyes grew as large as moons; then she started coughing and had to pick up a cup of wine, downing it in two swallows. It took her a few tries just to speak.
"I...*cough*...I suppose it would be all right for...*cough*...Prince Ihi to stay the night just this once, Lord...seeing as Lord Horus and I have some...*cough*...things to do."
Upuat rolled his eyes and picked up his own cup. "Don't see why she doesn't just say it," he muttered, taking a swig and earning a disapproving look from Maftet and a very dirty glare from Hathor.
"Good," Ra said again. "He'll be well cared for, and will have the chance to become accustomed to Iunu as he should be. I'll make certain he gets put to bed at a decent time." He leaned toward Thoth and whispered, "Wait until he practically drops dead of exhaustion before putting him to bed, otherwise he'll never sleep." He leaned back as Thoth pretended to write. "I look forward to seeing all of you again tomorrow."
Everyone bowed, and waited until he'd risen and departed from the courtyard before starting to murmur and get to their feet. Khenti Amenti went around picking scraps off of everyone's plates before they could be tossed out; Upuat stretched, then yelled, "Ow!" when Hathor made a point of stomping on his foot as she passed. Ihi waved at everyone as they departed, and Horus bent down before him to place a finger to his nose, summoning up the sternest expression that he could.
"Now you must behave yourself in another person's house, Ihi. God Ra won't allow you to run about as we do. Be good, and do as he says, and we'll be back for you again tomorrow. All right?"
Ihi nodded. "Bye-bye!" he exclaimed, waving; Hathor halted in the exit from the courtyard and didn't stop waving at him and blowing kisses until Horus whispered at her again as he passed, after which she turned and followed, apparently promptly forgetting about her son. No one was left but Thoth, Khenti Amenti, Ra's servants, and Ihi himself, the wolf and the servants making quick work of the mess left behind as Thoth stepped down and took hold of Ihi's hand, leading him back into the palace.
"Now, Prince," he said as they walked along the hall, "God Ra has instructed me to allow you to do basically whatever you wish for the rest of the evening. And so while I strongly disagree with this request, I have no choice but to allow it. You have free run of the palace, but I ask that you do try to at least act like a moderately civilized hellion."
"Having fun bad?" Ihi inquired.
"No," Thoth replied somewhat loftily, "'having fun' is not in itself necessarily a bad thing." He fell silent for a moment, then leaned down toward the young god, cupping his free hand to his beak to whisper. "It's just that I remember God Ra when he was about your age...and why his mother's hair did not go gray back then is beyond me!" He stood up straight again. "You will not repeat this, of course."
"Acourse," Ihi agreed. He tugged on Thoth's hand and pointed toward the side court. "Bloop?" he asked.
Thoth frowned down at him, puzzled. "'Bloop'?" he echoed. Never in any of his years of reading and writing and studying had he come across that particular word.
Ihi nodded again, with much conviction, and pointed at the pool. "Bloop?"
The ibis god just stared at him rather stupidly. After pondering over everything he'd learned in his entire life, he had to assume that a "bloop" was merely some sort of childish figment of the imagination, and Ihi must have lately made up a friend for himself to pass the time with in the courtyard. "Very well," he said as soon as he assumed this, and let go of Ihi's hand. "You may go and play with your 'bloop.' I'll return in perhaps a half hour, at which point I expect you to be practically dead of exhaustion."
"Acourse," Ihi said again, quite sagely, and turned and went toddling off into the courtyard. Thoth suppressed a small sigh and continued on his way to the library, thinking that perhaps the study of some mathematical equations might rid him of the beginnings of a headache.
The little boy halted at the edge of the pool, kneeling to peer down into the water. "Hello?" he called out; then, "Hellooooo?" He waited for a moment, beginning to fret that the bloop had swum off elsewhere...but after another moment a bubble broke the surface, and then the large-lipped creature reappeared, mouth moving as if it were talking without sound. Ihi found this most amusing and beamed at it, waving. "Hello bloop!" It let out a responding bloop and Ihi promptly sat down, dangling his feet in the water and smiling as the bloop swam around them and nibbled at his toes. He reached into his kilt and pulled out a few cakes he'd managed to pilfer at the banquet, and, breaking them into crumbs, tossed these into the pool bit by bit, giggling as the bloop gulped down each piece right after it hit the water. They spent the next half hour thus, until Thoth's voice came calling from within the palace, and Ihi sighed yet again and got back up to his feet. He shook the water from them and looked sadly down at the bloop as it swam in circles. "Mean long-beak bird person," Ihi grumbled, and turned to step away.
The bloop let out a questioning blip.
Ihi glanced over his shoulder at it, then turned and knelt by the poolside. "Sorry, bloop," he whispered, patting its head. Its fins waved. "Have to get to bed now. If bloop is good, bloop will get to bed now too."
The bloop just moved its mouth silently, large eyes staring at him.
Ihi frowned and furrowed his brow. "Where does bloop sleep?" he asked, and looked around the pool. "Does bloop have a bed on the bottom...?" He leaned forward and stuck his head under the water, squinting and examining the pool as best as he could, but all that he could see were the lilies bobbing all around...the bottom was too lost in darkness to be seen well enough, and when he thought about it longer, it didn't make sense to be sleeping at the bottom of a pool. He drew his head out, sputtering, and gave the bloop a concerned look.
"Poor bloop! You sleep in the wet?"
The bloop blooped.
"Ohhh." He patted its head sympathetically. He still sometimes awoke to find his own pallet wet, and one of the servant girls would always have to change the coverings as well as his clothes. From the way his mother always reacted, he knew that wetting the bed wasn't a very nice thing, and he himself knew it didn't feel particularly comfortable either. And that was just a little water. He couldn't even imagine how uncomfortable it must be to sleep in a pool full of it.
"Poor bloop!" he cried, and gnawed on his lip. What to do? He got up and paced back and forth a few times, trying to think fast, as Thoth would certainly be coming back soon. He at last halted, staring down at it in great sympathy, then gasped when Thoth's voice called out again, even closer this time. He dropped to his knees and reached out toward the bloop.
"Bloop! Hurry up! Before mean long-beak bird person comes!"
The bloop opened and closed its mouth, fins waving.
Ihi let out a whine. "Come on, bloop! Can't sleep all wet all night! Not comfy!" And he reached into the pool and caught the bloop in his hands, pulling it out.
He had to shut his eyes, as the bloop immediately started thrashing and splashing him, twisting and flipping in his grip. Its lips made noisy smacking sounds and it was all he could do to keep from losing his hold on it as he pulled up his kilt and tucked the bloop into it, wrapping it up. It kept squirming and struggling for a good long while but he managed to grasp it in his arms, and he got to his feet, his kilt raised above his waist, just as Thoth's voice came a third time from the hallway behind him.
"Prince Ihi? I shouldn't have to call you again, Highness..."
"Comiiiinnnng!" Ihi called out, and toddled away from the pool, weaving from side to side due to his still-struggling burden.
By the time he got back inside to find Thoth waiting, arms crossed, the bloop had stopped fighting quite so much, and was now just wriggling a little. Ihi sighed with relief, keeping his arms around it tightly; his kilt was soaked through, but that was a small price to pay for a comfortable bloop. Thoth gave him a very odd look indeed as he approached.
"Why is your kilt up?" the ibis god asked, sounding as if he didn't really wish to know.
Ihi bit his lip a little, legs together as if he had to make water of his own. "No reason," he said in his best innocent voice.
Thoth frowned. "You have no reason for holding up your kilt? Why are you standing like that--?" He bent to the side; Ihi bent sideways as well, gripping the bloop tightly. "What are you holding in your kilt?" Thoth asked, frown growing. "Have you been up to something?"
"Uh-uh," Ihi said, shaking his head.
Thoth crossed his arms again. "You do realize, Prince, that I oversee the nightly judgements in the Hall of Maati and there is no one who can detect a lie better than I? And so you'll tell me exactly what it is that you're concealing in your kilt, and why you're standing as if you need to piddle!"
Ihi gnawed on his lip, trying desperately to think of a good lie, before remembering what Horus and Hathor had always told him about lying--namely, that it was a bad thing that he should never do. He sighed and loosened his grip on the bloop a little, as it was no longer fighting him whatsoever, evidently having accustomed itself to being comfortably dry. "Bloop," he admitted at last.
Thoth's odd look returned. "Bloop?" he echoed again.
Ihi nodded and held up his kilt higher. "Wanna see--?"
The ibis god jerked back, turning his head and grimacing as he waved his hand at Ihi. "No--no! I fully believe you! Very well, you have a bloop in your kilt. Whatever. It's time to get along to bed now, and your clothes are soaked. Fortunately I foresaw this happening and had a fresh set of clothes delivered to the room you are to sleep in. You were to wear them tomorrow, but I'm guessing they'll do just as well now. So please follow me, and...you can say goodnight to your...bloop...there."
"All right," Ihi agreed amiably enough, and Thoth let out a great sigh as they began walking up the hall toward the back of the household.
"I can truthfully say," Thoth muttered as they went, "that I never entertained myself with the childhood delusion of imaginary friends...books and scrolls were all I ever needed!" He halted and opened a door set in the wall, gesturing inside. "You'll find within a cot just your size, and your dry clothes, and a proper toilet in case you need it...which I'm guessing you will. If you get hungry or thirsty in the night, I've seen to this as well, and there is water and a plate of figs within. Don't eat too many, or your stomach will be upset when you awaken. And if you need some light reading to get to sleep, I took the liberty of checking out a few of God Ra's finest papyri on philosophy and astronomy..." He trailed off, seeing the way that Ihi shifted from foot to foot and stared off into space with glazed eyes, then sighed. "Who am I kidding--they have nice pictures." He gestured again. "Go on now, and get to sleep. No, I'm not tucking you in."
"Story...?" Ihi inquired as he stepped into the room, peering back at Thoth with large eyes.
Thoth bristled. "I just said I won't tuck you in!" When Ihi continued staring at him he ran a hand down his face. "Very well, fine! Once upon a time, there was a great nothing, but a vast amount of water, for this is the way things were in the very beginning. There was nothing but darkness upon the face of the waves for the sun had not yet come into being, nor had anything else, for these events weren't to transpire for many cycles to come. Out of this vast watery void an island arose, and upon the island was a lotus, and within the lotus was an egg, and within the egg..."
"G'night," Ihi said, turning and toddling into the room without another glance. Thoth would have ground his teeth--had he had any--but he settled instead for fuming silently as he shut the door and stalked away down the hall.
Ihi stood on the other side of the door, listening until he heard the mean long-beak bird person's footsteps recede into the distance. Then he let out a sigh of relief and turned to face the room. He bit his lip as he examined his surroundings. There was a little cot set up at the other side of the room, a little table with a plate of figs and a bowl of water upon it, and a chest with a little set of fresh clothes. He went over and looked at the waterbowl, looked at the clothes, then looked at the waterbowl again. His eyes lit up and he opened his kilt to peer down at the now-still bloop. As soon as it saw him, its mouth opened a little bit.
Ihi smiled. "Perfect bed for bloop to sleep in tonight!"
He carefully took off his kilt and set it on the cot, went over to the chest, and picked up the new clothes. He went back to the waterbowl, dumped its contents on the floor with a splash, tucked the new clothes into it, then retrieved the bloop and tucked it into the new clothes. He hummed as he carefully wrapped the bloop up nice and snug and patted it on the head. It was cold and clammy.
"G'night!" he exclaimed, and, not even caring that he was practically naked, hopped onto the cot and with a contented sigh promptly fell asleep and dreamed of happy bloops.
As Ihi's parents were aware, he was an early riser. They'd forgotten to inform anyone within Ra's household of this, however, their minds having been on other matters when they'd left. So Ihi sat up on his cot before Ra's sunboat had even left for the day, yawning and stretching. He turned to smile at his new friend and patted its head. "Good morning, bloop!" He hopped out of bed and toddled over to look outside, then toddled back. "Need my clothes back now," he informed the bloop. "Wakey!"
The bloop just lay there, mouth and eyes both open.
Ihi waited a moment, then frowned a little. "Wakey-wakey!" he called, knowing the power of repeating a word more than once. When that resulted in nothing he tried his ultimate power--"Wakey-wakey-wakey!"--but still the bloop refused to move. Ihi pursed his lips, then poked at the bloop. When it didn't move, he tickled it, then took in a breath of awe. He'd never yet met a creature that wasn't ticklish, though after last night he suspected that Thoth might not be.
"Bloop...?" he murmured, nudging it a bit. He frowned again and paused thoughtfully. "Heavy sleeper," he said at last, and nodded, quite seriously. That was what his mother said whenever she had to be called in to wake him up because the servants had failed. He knew how much he hated being awakened so when he was quite tired, so he decided to let the bloop get all the sleep it needed. Surely it was tired after its adventures of the previous night, and found its new bed so comfortable it didn't wish to climb out yet. Smiling again, Ihi gently lifted out both bloop and kilt, and set it on the cot while he pulled out the new kilt--now just as mussed as the old one--and put it on. He picked up the bloop again and, cradling it in his arms, made his way for the door and out into the hall. He'd never spent the night in a strange household before. He wondered if there would be anything interesting to see this early in the morning.
He was surprised to hear other voices conversing further down the hall, not far from the courtyard where he'd found the bloop; he hastened over to a column and peered out from behind it. It was Lady Bastet and her sister Maftet, and Bastet was gesturing animatedly as she spoke.
"You wouldn't believe all the fuss he made having it transported and brought in," she said in a loud whisper which Ihi could hear quite fine halfway up the hall. "One would think its scales must be encrusted with precious jewels! I didn't even know Father liked fish! He's always been more partial to hawks and lilies and things, you know..."
"Did he speak with you at all about what he intends for it?" Maftet inquired. She had her bow slung over her shoulder and looked like she'd rather be out hunting.
Bastet shrugged. "He did not even tell me! He said that it's quite special, though, so I took that as a sign for me to leave it alone. You do know I sometimes have a bit of difficulty keeping my hands off the fishes, Sister..."
"Don't tell me you actually tried anything," Maftet said with a frown.
Bastet meekly rubbed at her ear. "Well...all I know for sure is, I was just reaching into the pool to tickle it--that's all, I swear!--and Father just happened to be passing by and he got SUCH an awful look on his face that I thought for sure the world would cease to exist at just that moment! Father NEVER gets so hideously upset with me--"
"I'm aware," Maftet said.
"--so I knew right then to just leave the little creature alone. Surely it's a very special fish for Father to care about it so! Thoth said he had it imported from the Great Green Sea--not that that makes it so special, if you ask me--and he even had to accustom it to the strange water here, since apparently these fish thrive in salt, how ghastly is that!--but he's been tending to it most carefully ever since. He has strict rules about how to feed it, how to clean the pool, how to let it rest in peace and not molest it in any way--heavens!--what sort of fish is it? I asked Thoth and even HE couldn't tell me anything particularly special about it! It's just a plain old fish, as far as I'm concerned...Father never treated me so special..."
"So difficult to believe," Maftet said.
"Good morning! What's with all this chatter?" a new voice said, and Khenti Amenti, the wolf, came trotting into view. "Ah! Hello, beautiful Ladies! What's all this interesting speech I hear? I hope I've missed nothing important...?"
"We were just discussing that fish out there," Bastet said, nodding toward the pool.
"Ah, yes, the fish," Khenti said, and sat down between them. "I'll have you know, I've been asking around about that fish myself, and the sunhawks tell quite a story about how Ra acts toward it! Why, they said that just the other day, he was almost late getting to the sunboat because he was busy out there HANDFEEDING it himself!"
The two goddesses gasped.
Khenti nodded. "Indeed! You KNOW it must be one hell of a fish when God Ra himself sees fit to let it eat from his fingers!" He stood up. "That having been said--I knew best to just leave the thing alone! Who's to say what sort of plans he has for it? I'm betting it's a wondrous gift for a beautiful lady from afar!"
Maftet made a face. "What would make you say that? What sort of lady would want a fish for a gift--?"
"I wouldn't mind one," Bastet pouted.
"Why is everyone coming here so damned early...?" another voice called, and Upuat came up the hall, still yawning and rubbing at an eye. "Goddess? I thought we were the only ones who'd bother showing up at such an atrocious hour."
Maftet rolled her eyes. "I told you, even though he didn't say it, Father evidently had wishes for us to show up early today. Trust me. When Father makes an unspoken request, you comply with it."
"He could at least speak up about it," Upuat grumbled, halting beside her. "What's all this talking?"
"We were just discussing that fish out there," Bastet said, again nodding at the pool. "Khenti here says Father's been HANDFEEDING it!"
"Surely such an awesome fish is meant as a gift for a beautiful queen overseas," Khenti added.
Upuat rolled his eyes and snorted. "Where do you get such rubbish? It's obvious the fish is a demon."
The two goddesses and Khenti Amenti gasped.
"Where do you get THAT idea?" Bastet exclaimed.
"What else makes sense?" Upuat grumbled in return. "The only reason God Ra would see to a mere FISH personally is if it contains the ka of a hideous demon. A demon with such heka that no one may control it but Ra himself! Perhaps it's even Apophis trapped out there. This is why God Ra wants no one near it--for their own safety."
"But why would he be feeding it and such?" Bastet asked, confused.
The wolf god rolled his eyes again. "Isn't it obvious? If the fish dies, the demon's ka is released, and could very well enter anything else around it--you perhaps--or you!"
Bastet and Khenti Amenti edged closer to each other, chattering now. Only Maftet looked unconvinced.
"Oh dear!" Bastet gasped as Khenti wrapped his forelegs around her knee. She began gnawing on her fingernails. "I was SO CLOSE to getting possessed!!"
"I doubt Father would lock Apophis in his courtyard pool," Maftet said.
Upuat snorted. "You would doubt me."
"What's going on over here?" yet another new voice called, and this time Sakhmet approached, yawning widely enough to swallow an antelope's head. She too carried a bow, and when she halted beside Maftet the two of them looked each other up and down with a frown. Maftet then gave Upuat a frank look.
"Unspoken request," she said. "See?"
Upuat just grumbled. "Women."
"We were just talking about that fish out in the pool," Bastet said, nodding a third time. "Khenti thought it was a gift for a beautiful queen overseas--but Upuat here says it contains the soul of a hideous demon!"
Sakhmet made a huffing noise. "Where do you get such rubbish!! Everybody knows what that fish is for!" When they all gave her blank looks she waved her arms. "Hello! It's a SACRED fish."
Now the others--Ihi included--all got very odd looks indeed. "Since when is a fish sacred to God Ra...?" Upuat inquired skeptically.
"Since he decided that he was getting tired of hawks," Sakhmet replied matter-of-factly. "Think about it! Don't you ever get tired sometimes of your sacred animal? I mean, lions are lovely, just grand, and I would never trade them for the world...but once in a great while I do wish I could be a hippopotamus or something..."
"HIPPOPOTAMUS!!" the other four cried.
Sakhmet bared her teeth and grabbed her bow as if to slay them with it. "They're BIG AND NASTY!"
"I would never wish for anything other than a cat!" Bastet declared.
"Well, I don't know..." Khenti mused, rubbing his head with one paw. "I would rather like to be a cheetah sometimes--the better to run away when Hathor gets pissed at me!"
"In any case, he's God Ra, so who are we to question?" Sakhmet went on. "As far as I see it EVERY animal is sacred to him, and if he wants a sacred fish, then a sacred fish he gets. THAT'S why he wants no one to molest it--not because it's a gift for some silly queen or has the ka of a demon in it. What silly nonsense you folks come up with sometimes."
This time Bastet, Upuat, and Khenti all grumbled. "Women."
"Whichever it is," Maftet cut in, "it's not really any of our business. We should check in with Father before he leaves for the day, just so he knows we thought to show up early. Perhaps he'll let us go and spend the rest of the day as we see fit, until the banquet tonight. I do take it you four would be much more interested in doing your own things than in staying here all day."
Bastet's lip stuck out. "But I like--" She cut herself off when Khenti dug his toe into her foot. "Er--I guess! We should go speak with him now."
"About time," Upuat muttered. "If I don't split open the head of something soon I'm going to go mad."
"Likewise," Sakhmet added, and they all turned to head up the hall.
Ihi glanced around himself but could tell there was nowhere to go without them noticing. So he shrugged and hopped out from behind the column and came toddling their way. He lifted one hand a little to wave, careful not to drop his burden. "G'morning!" he called out.
The other neteru blinked a bit as if surprised to see him, then all of them but Upuat got quite cheery looks and waved back, and even Upuat waved when none of the others were looking. "Good morning little ray of sunshine!" Bastet cried, and hurried toward him to scoop him up in her arms. "I hope you slept well! That was quite a dinner you had last night, wasn't it?"
Ihi nodded, smiling himself.
"Hello, what's that you're carrying?" Khenti asked, balancing on his hind legs and cocking his head. "Anything interesting--?"
"Bloop," Ihi replied.
They all frowned. Upuat and Maftet looked at each other, then back at him. "'Bloop'?" the wolf god echoed. He made a face. "What in the Duat is a bloop?"
"Bloop!" Ihi said again; then, seeing that they had no idea what he was talking about, he let out a big sigh and pulled back the covering on the bloop to show them. "See?"
Everyone moved closer to look down at it. An instant later, everybody's face was stark white, and their eyes were bigger than they'd ever been.
Bastet's whiskers flared. "Is that--"
In response the others all turned and went dashing madly out toward the pool. They all dropped down at different sides and stuck their arms into the water, splashing frantically. Upuat and Khenti Amenti--then Sakhmet--even dunked their heads into the water for a moment, bubbles rising around them; when that resulted in nothing, Sakhmet shoved Khenti Amenti into the pool and he fell with a yelp and a splash. The others paused and waited for a moment or two, until the wolf's head popped back out of the water. He sputtered and shook the water from his ears, then gave them a panicked look.
"N-no fish!!" he cried.
The other neteru's jaws hit the floor. Sakhmet put her hands to her face and started letting out an awful noise which made Upuat wince and get to his feet.
"Stop panicking!" he demanded, rubbing the water from his own ears. "We have to think of something before God Ra notices it missing!"
"Are you saying we should lie?" Bastet gasped.
Upuat gave her a look. "Are you saying we should tell the truth--?"
In response Bastet just started chattering. She set Ihi down and he wandered over to poolside, sitting down himself and unwrapping the fish. He poked at it a few more times, cocking his head. The others gathered around him and stared down in horror.
"I--I can't believe he killed it!" Bastet exclaimed. "He seems like such a NICE child!"
"I'm telling you!" Khenti insisted, frowning. "It's the NICE ones who turn out bad!"
"It was surely an accident," Maftet said. "He couldn't have meant it on purpose. You know how little children are."
"Either way, that was Father's FAVORITE fish," Sakhmet said. "And he's going to be INCREDIBLY furious once he finds it dead!"
"How could we ever replace it?" Bastet asked, looking at them all with large wet eyes. "He sent for it from the Great Green Sea! He'll surely come out some time today to look at it--how are we going to get another fish just like this one, that quickly--?"
Upuat frowned and gnawed on his thumbnail.
"A fish is just a fish, isn't it?" Sakhmet asked. "Just go out and pluck one from the river! Father won't tell the difference."
Bastet tugged on her hair; by now Ihi had the fish in his hands and was dancing it around, its head flopping limply from side to side while Khenti held his nose and gagged. "Father's not THAT naive! How can you even suggest that, Sister--? Oh, he'll KNOW! He'll know the very first thing that something's wrong! If we don't do something we're all DOOMED--!"
Upuat growled. "SILENCE, woman! I'm trying to think!" Bastet clapped her hands to her mouth, eyes goggling. Upuat stared at the pool for a moment, then turned back to Khenti and the goddesses so abruptly that they jumped. "We need assistance," he stated. "Someone who can get us an exact duplicate of this very fish!"
"And who might that be?" Sakhmet said, frowning.
"The very person who makes fish," Upuat said, and he turned to Khenti Amenti. "You! Did you spot Lord Khnum at the banquet any time last night--?"
The wolf's eyes grew; so did the goddesses', as they began to understand what he meant. "I'm afraid I didn't," Khenti admitted. "And I sniffed the leg of every--ahm--I checked out everyone who arrived, too! I asked around a bit, as we were all supposed to attend, and I was told that he was a bit hung up, working on a few projects of his."
"What's the quickest way to summon him without arousing suspicion?" Upuat asked.
"Well, we can't send a sunhawk," Bastet answered. "Father would catch on immediately!"
"Thoth would be able to get there quite fast," Sakhmet said, "but I really don't think he'd be a good candidate, either!"
"I'll go see if I can find anyone suitable!" Khenti offered, trotting out of the courtyard. "As I recall it, a few of the other neteru were beginning to show up...surely one of them will be willing to get in on this with us--er--help us out!"
The others held their places as he departed, and looked down at Ihi again. The little boy hummed as he moved the dead fish around; now they all winced and covered their noses, as it was beginning to stink a little. Even Ihi halted in his play and waved a hand in front of his face, exclaiming, "Stinky bloop! Eat something bad...?"
"Once this is all settled," Upuat growled, "Hathor is going to need a strict talking-to."
"Who's to say it isn't Horus who should be lectured?" Sakhmet countered. "Either way, one of them messed up! How sad for a child not to know what a fish is and that they DIE if you take them out of water!"
"I ate a lizard when I was little," Bastet said out of nowhere, and when everyone looked at her she blushed.
Footsteps came from the hallway and Khenti reappeared, panting. "I think I've found the solution to our problem!" he announced. "Though we might have a little explaining to do..."
Another figure stepped into the courtyard and Upuat's mouth fell open. "THAT'S the best you could do--?" he practically yelled, as Lord Sokar made his way toward the pool, arms crossed and a very unpleasant look on his face.
Khenti shrugged helplessly. "Look, you needed someone who could fly, didn't you? It was either him or Isis, and while I'm sure Isis is pretty good at lying to Ra, do you really want to involve her in this--?"
Upuat ground his teeth. "Exactly what is it I've come to be a part of...?" Sokar inquired, giving them all a cool look. "I was informed there was some sort of plot going on..." He noticed Ihi now, and frowned, tilting his head to the side. "Is that boy playing with a dead fish?"
"It's rather complicated," Bastet said apologetically. "You see...that fish there belongs to Father...and it's a very special fish...and we REALLY need to replace it before he notices it missing!"
"We need someone to fly south to fetch Lord Khnum to create another one for us, just like this one," Maftet said.
"Only alive, preferably," Khenti added, only to wince when Upuat kicked him.
"And how exactly did this precious fish end up dead in the first place?" Sokar asked.
"Well..." Bastet rubbed her head. "It seems Prince Ihi here thought to make it his companion, and removed it from the pool some time last night, and took it to bed with him..."
Sokar started laughing.
Upuat looked ready to murder someone. "Perhaps we should go out and fetch Isis after all!"
Sokar shook his head. "No...I'll go fetch Lord Khnum," he said, having to catch his breath. "If only because this will make an excellent story to blackmail any of you with sometime in the future." He bent forward to look at the dead fish, which Ihi was now pushing along the ground as if to make it move on its own. "Someone may wish to inform this child, however," he said, "that fish don't walk, and that they tend to die rather easily when out of water." He stood up again. "Though I had assumed this was common knowledge, I guess not all of us can be quite so bright." He turned and strode from the courtyard, chuckling to himself. "This will make a very good story someday."
Sakhmet pulled a mace from her belt. "We still have time to fetch Isis! I can sneak up behind him and bash his head in!"
"No," Upuat muttered, "knowing him, he'll just come back to life and find some way to make that into a nice story, too. At least Khnum should show some tact and common sense!"
"If he's even willing to help out," Maftet said. "He's never been a particularly deceitful god."
"Well--neither have I!" Bastet protested.
"All we can do now is wait," Upuat said. "Khenti, go and keep an eye out for God Ra or Thoth or anyone else of like disposition. We have to make sure none of them make way into this courtyard until Khnum comes through!"
"Will do," Khenti replied, and trotted off again. Upuat cast a glance at the goddesses, who sighed and went to sit at various spots in the courtyard. He leaned against a column, and they all stared at the oblivious Ihi.
"How could the House of Iunu have gone so wrong?" Upuat asked after a while, and each of the goddesses sighed, but offered no answer.
Perhaps an hour later, Sokar returned in hawk form, flapping down into the courtyard and landing beside the pool. Upuat and the goddesses hurriedly got up to go meet him, each of them more than a little unsettled, as Khenti had twice so far had to fend off servants that Ra had sent specifically to check in on the fish--"It's SLEEPING!" he cried both times, "Do you really want to disturb the holy fish of God Ra?!"--and they waited impatiently while he changed back into his human form, dusting himself off with a look of distaste.
"Well--?" Bastet prompted. "What did he say?"
"You could at least give me a moment to rest my arms," Sokar groused, but straightened out his cape and snorted anyway. "Lord Khnum has agreed to your request and is busy sculpting a replacement fish as we speak. He still has the original of that dead vermin there," he nodded at the fish, beside which Ihi was now napping, a few flies buzzing around him, "and so believes he can create a reasonable copy of it. Be aware however that it might take a little while, and he will then have to bring the fish along with him, seeing as it wouldn't be a wise idea to just dump it in the river and let it fend for itself all the way to Iunu."
"Oh," Bastet said, and sighed. "I guess we'll have to fend off Father a little bit longer then."
"No sooner said than done!" Khenti gasped, scuttling into the courtyard. He pointed frantically. "Here he comes RIGHT NOW!"
Bastet's and Sakhmet's mouths fell open. "Right now?" they cried, and everyone, save Ihi and Sokar, dashed toward the hall to peer around the corner. Sure enough, Ra was coming their way, accompanied by Thoth, who was as usual pretending to write things down on his palette. They all hurried back into the courtyard and glanced at each other anxiously.
"What do we do?" Bastet cried in a whisper. "We can't very well keep him from his own courtyard!"
"We just have to convince him that the fish is safe and sound," Upuat said.
"And how, pray tell, do you plan to do that?" Sokar asked with a frown. "In case you haven't noticed..." They all looked at the fish just as a fly settled on its glazed eyeball, and then they made faces.
"I have an idea!" Sakhmet hissed, and hurried toward Ihi. She snatched up the dead fish before the little boy could awaken and protest, dashed toward Sokar, and shoved it under his cape. The hawk god's eyes goggled and his beak fell open, his feathers bristling; a moment later his fists were clenched and he looked fully willing to murder the goddess.
"They're here!!" Bastet whispered, and jumped away from the entryway. Everyone hastily assumed positions around the pool and pretended to be absorbed in staring at the sky or the water or their fingernails, though Sokar did glare at Sakhmet and make an incredibly rude gesture with his hand.
Ra and Thoth appeared and halted just inside. "Oh," Ra said, blinking and looking out at them in surprise. "I wasn't aware my household was so busy so early. You are aware that you are all free to wander the rest of the palace...?"
There was a general murmuring and nodding, the rest of the neteru making it look like they were quite content to remain here.
"Very well," Ra said, looking puzzled. He stepped outside. "I was just going to look in on my fish, since my servants haven't seemed willing to do so..."
Immediately the others all jumped up and surrounded him in such a rush that he jerked back, nearly running into Thoth. "As--as you said, it's still so early!" Bastet exclaimed. "Your lovely fish had such a long day yesterday--people going in and out--"
"It didn't have a moment's rest, it was so busy playing host to all the dragonflies," Khenti added.
"--And it's so very tired right now," Bastet finished.
"Even fish need rest," Upuat said lamely.
"You know how cranky I get when I don't get sleep, don't you, Lord?" Sakhmet asked.
"Its scales were lacking a bit of the luster you love so well," Maftet said.
Everyone looked to Sokar. His eyes grew and shifted from side to side a bit, then narrowed into a scowl. "The poor fish," he growled. "It's practically clammy and slimy with exhaustion."
Ra's frown grew. "Perhaps it's taken ill," he said. "If so, I should best check it out, because tonight--"
"I'm sure it'll recover just fine!!" Sakhmet and Bastet both exclaimed at once.
"It just needs some rest," Bastet added.
"Such a special fish! Special fish need special rest!" Khenti said. "In fact, we should even build a special little pool just for it..."
"And make sure it stays in there, where it belongs," Sokar said, his eyes slits. "Deep, DEEP down, under endless measures of frigid pitch-black water--along with someone else I know..."
Ra looked like he was getting beyond confused by now, and even Thoth was starting to get an odd expression. "I wasn't aware you all cared so much about my fish," the sun god said, perplexed.
"Well, of COURSE we do!" Bastet said, and everyone else nodded vehemently. "After all, we know just how much you adore it! All the trouble you've gone to to see to it! So we just thought we'd all take a hand in making certain it's as comfortable as can be..."
"And that it serves its ultimate purpose to you admirably!" Khenti finished, and they again nodded.
Ra stared at them for a moment, then turned his head a little; he seemed unconvinced, but took a step back anyway. "Yes...well...make certain you feed it, since you seem to have set yourselves up as its guardians," he ordered. "I don't want it starving by any means."
"Of course," everyone said at once.
"And when next my servants come out to see it this afternoon, I expect you to let them in, because I have special plans for my fish," Ra continued. His frown returned. "And I need to have my fish handled in just the right way, at just the right time, or my evening will be ruined. You will of course not cause trouble...?"
"Of course not," everyone said at once.
Ra nodded. "Very well...enjoy watching over my fish." He got another odd look, which clearly said he thought they must not have gotten enough sleep themselves, and turned away to leave. Thoth followed, though he did cast them a look over his shoulder which plainly said that he knew they were up to something, even if not what. As soon as they were gone, everyone let out their breath and sank where they stood--then Sokar squirmed and pulled out the dead fish and started smacking Khenti Amenti with it. The wolf yelped and tried dodging the blows.
"Wh--what did I do?!" he cried. "I didn't shove it under there!!"
"No, but I don't go hitting women, and you're just as convenient a target as anything!" Sokar snarled, and gave him a particularly hard thwack which sent him dashing for the other side of the pool.
Ihi sat up and rubbed at an eye. "Where's bloop?" he asked.
Everyone looked at him blankly, then sank again. "Lord Khnum had best bring that thing here quickly," Upuat moaned, "or else I'll throw myself in the pool."
"I think God Ra will be more than willing to do that to ALL of us if that fish doesn't arrive in a timely fashion!" Khenti agreed, and they all sat in their places, waiting anxiously.
About an hour later, most of them were busily dozing, except for Bastet, who was the most nervous of them all and kept pacing before the entryway. The others weren't used to spending so much time within courtyards and of course staring at the pool and the lotuses had gotten dreadfully boring after a while, and even Sokar seemed to have tired of beating Khenti with the dead fish, so Ihi had hold of it again. He was humming to himself as he used one of Sakhmet's earrings--which he'd carefully removed as she dozed--to make the fish pretty, even though its skin had reached a rather warm and slimy texture by now and there were considerably more flies than before. Ihi toddled over to Sokar and tugged on his cape to rouse him; the hawk god blinked and looked blearily at the smelly fish with its shiny new nosering, muttered something about the general stupidity and uselessness of children, and dozed off again. Ihi turned around to see who else to best show his bloop to when Khnum peered into the courtyard, then tentatively stepped out. He was carrying a large jar in his hands and looked puzzled.
"Hello...?" he called out.
Everyone--even the goddesses--snorted and popped awake immediately. Bastet whirled around and came running toward him from the other side of the courtyard, but she forgot to take into account the pool standing between them, and she promptly plunged into it with a shriek and a splash. The other neteru looked at the water for a moment before turning their attention back to Khnum and then crowding around him.
"You brought the fish--?" Upuat demanded.
"Is it exactly like the other one?" Maftet asked.
"Same color and everything?" Sakhmet added.
"Same number of fins--?" Khenti asked, jumping up and down since he was so short compared to the rest of them.
"And in considerably more of an alive condition than the other?" Sokar muttered.
"Yes--yes--yes--yes--yes!!" Khnum stammered, clasping the jar to himself, eyes wide and panicked. "Sweet Aalu! What's going on? Why is this fish so important all of a sudden--?"
"Does that answer your question--?" the rest of the neteru chorused, and all pointed behind themselves. At first Khnum saw nothing but Bastet, sputtering and floundering in the pool; then he looked down and saw Ihi kissing the head of the dead fish, and his face went green.
"Ehh..." he said, his voice suddenly weak. "I think it does...though I won't ask for the details!" He held the jar out for them to look within. "Here it is. It took me longer than I'd thought to get it just right, since this fish doesn't dwell in Kemet and it's been ages since I've made one...!"
The others let out their breath with great relief.
Khnum pulled the jar back and frowned. "I take it I came just in the nick of time then? The looks on your faces are all so horrible right now!"
"What do you mean?" Sakhmet asked with a frown of her own.
"Well..." The ram god jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "On my way here I spotted a pair of God Ra's servants making their way up the hall, muttering something about fetching a fish. I can only assume it's this very one!" He peered at the dead fish which preoccupied so much of Ihi's attention. "And hopefully not that one...or else I don't know God Ra as well as I ought..."
"Hurry and let's put it in the pool!" Upuat hissed, and Khnum yelped when they grabbed his arms and bustled him forward, jerking at the jar so the fish flew out of it and through the air. Bastet was just clambering out of the pool when she lifted her head, shrieked again, and caught the fish in her arms before plunging back into the water. The waterlilies bobbed like mad, and one stuck to her head when she popped out again, spitting out water and looking quite peeved, as wet cats tend to look.
Everyone whirled around when the servants appeared and gave them very consternated looks before bowing repeatedly. "Pardon us, Lords and Ladies," one said, flustered, "but God Ra--life, strength, health!--sent us to bring to him his fish, so that he might inspect it for himself."
"He wishes to inspect his fish?" Khnum asked, furrowing his brow.
"Normally one wouldn't announce such a matter in public," Sokar said dryly, earning a glare from Sakhmet and Maftet.
"It's right in the pool," Upuat said, pointing as if they were quite ignorant.
"Right where it's been all along," Khenti Amenti added. They all looked at Sokar then, as apparently they'd guessed he'd been about to say, Except for when it was under my cape, but the hawk god blushed furiously and scowled in return yet held his tongue.
The servants wrung their hands and eyed each other nervously--they'd been rebuffed twice before--but bowed again and made their way toward the pool. "Very well then...if you will excuse us..."
"Exactly why is this fish quite so special...?" Khnum asked, cocking his head.
"His Majesty called for this exact type of fish to be caught in the Great Green Sea and brought here expressly!" one of the servants explained, dipping a net into the pool and swirling it around. "He has great plans for it..."
"It had better leave silver droppings, for how much trouble the damned thing is worth," Sokar muttered, and this time the glare came from Upuat.
"In any case, His Majesty has to inspect the fish for himself now," the other servant said, also swirling a net in the pool. "He will trust this duty to no one else. As we overheard him telling Lord Thoth, it's only once in a million years that one acquires such a grand fish as this and can make use of it."
"See? What did I tell you?" Khenti hissed. "He plans to give it to a beautiful goddess!"
"Apophis's tail! Doesn't he have enough wives already--?" Sokar exclaimed.
"I'm telling you it's a sacred fish!" Sakhmet hissed in return. "Why else see to it himself--?"
"He simply wants to make certain it's best contained away from the rest of Kemet!" Upuat snapped under his breath. "Because of the demon within it!"
They all started bickering quietly amongst themselves, evidently forgetting that this was in fact a quite different fish from the one they meant to be discussing. Khnum could only stand by in confused silence as the servants finally scooped out the live, thrashing fish, carefully placing it in a jar they had brought along and then departing with it. Neither of them, fortunately, took any notice of Ihi, who was now crushing berries upon the lips of the dead fish in an attempt to make it look more like one of the goddesses.
"Would it be QUITE ALL RIGHT with any of you if we could be going now--?" Sokar shouted at last, silencing the argument. "We've been languishing in this detestable courtyard for ages! If I'm to attend this dreadful banquet tonight I could at least stretch my legs a little where it isn't so damned sunny!"
"Oh," Sakhmet said, frowning as Maftet and Khenti helped Bastet from the pool. "I do suppose it's all right for us to leave now, seeing as that matter is settled. I do hope Father doesn't notice anything different about that fish!"
"I'm wet," Bastet cried, and started sobbing. She put her hands to her face. "Oh my! Now I'm WETTER!"
Ihi held up the fish toward Maftet when she looked down at it. "Blooptet...?"
"I think we'd best be getting him taken care of, as well," Upuat grumbled when all of the blood drained from the lynx goddess's face. "Lord Horus and Lady Hathor could both use a good talking-to for dumping him off here and letting him cause such trouble!"
"It sure is amazing how such a little thing can end up wreaking such havoc, isn't it?" Khenti mused.
"We should at least be washing ourselves up before dinner," Sakhmet said, helping to brush a few stray stems from Bastet's dripping hair. "Seeing as how not all of us are exactly spring clean right now."
"Agreed," Upuat said, and let out a breath. He put a hand to his head and they all began drifting out of the courtyard, Ihi happily clasping onto Khenti's tail for a ride. "Maftet...?" Upuat said as they went back into the hall.
"Don't worry," Maftet replied. "When we have children we will not let them play with fish."
No sooner had the group of gods and goddesses gotten freshened up and into nicer clothes than the rest of their number started to arrive, in pairs and trios, chattering just as they had the night before. Upuat, Bastet, and the others did their best to blend in as if they'd all arrived at the same time, and no one questioned it; Hathor and Horus appeared, and Ihi joyfully went running back to them, although only after he'd been relieved of his bloop by Khenti Amenti, who promised to find it some nicer makeup and jewelry before dinner. ("It was the ONLY way to get that stinking thing out of his hands without a tantrum!" he groused at the others when they gave him strange looks.) There was no need to worry about the dead fish, he added, as he'd easily disposed of it in the celestial river, where it had been made quick work of by some other, bigger fish. Several sunhawks flitted about stating that Ra wished the dinner to be held somewhat earlier this evening, and so they all made their way back to the main court, where the tables were already being set up and wine and beer poured. Upuat, Bastet, Sakhmet, Maftet, Sokar, and Khenti Amenti sank down into their seats in great exhaustion, Khnum sitting nearby, all of them relieved that the horrible events of the day were finally over with. They stared at Ihi as Hathor danced him by the arms, dull looks on their faces.
"Just as Khenti said," Bastet murmured. "Amazing how such a little thing can cause such big trouble."
"The boy," Sokar scowled, "or the fish?"
"Both," Khenti said, and let his head thunk down onto the table.
"Well," Khnum said hopefully, "at least it's over with, and now we have another fabulous dinner to look forward to. I heard the sunhawks talking as we came here, and they said that tonight it should be especially gratifying!"
"Anything to just forget about the rest of this day," Upuat said with a heavy sigh. "I'm going to be remembering this unpleasantness forever!"
"I'm going to be smelling like this unpleasantness forever," Bastet whimpered, looking at her hands as if they were covered with boils.
"I'm glad that all of you could come here again today," Ra called out from his seat under its canopy; everyone ceased chattering to look toward him respectfully. "I realize this takes time away from your regular duties, but I decided to present a special dinner in honor of Prince Ihi's first visit to Iunu in many months. From the looks of him, he will soon turn out to be a fine prince."
There was some polite applause. Horus's and Hathor's four other sons made faces at Ihi.
"In recognition of his contribution to the House of Iunu, I had prepared a special course, just for him--though of course the rest of you are also allowed to partake of it if he wishes," Ra continued. "I doubt he'll be able to consume the whole meal on his own!" A polite murmur of laughter from the other neteru, most of whom looked like they'd rather be eating by now. Khenti Amenti was even craning his neck and starting to drool; Sokar smacked him when a droplet landed on his knee. "It's taken quite a while to properly prepare this meal," Ra said. "So I hope it meets with everyone's approval. In fact, I'm certain none of you here have ever even tasted it before."
Servants were now arriving, carrying a lidded tray between them. Everyone ooh'ed and ahh'ed as they passed, making their way to the table that Ihi and his family were sitting at. They bowed deeply when they set the tray down, other servants settling smaller trays of fruits and cakes and cups of wine and beer at their table and the tables of everyone else. Ihi's eyes went wide and he leaned toward the biggest tray in awe.
Ra smiled slightly. "Here is my gift to you, Prince Ihi. I do hope you enjoy it."
The nearest servant lifted the lid. Ihi's eyes went even bigger and a second later a smile of immense joy lit up his face.
"BLOOP!" he cried, and waved cheerily at the roasted fish, surrounded by fruit, settled upon the tray.
Most of the gods, Horus and Hathor included, frowned and tilted their heads, then started murmuring in puzzlement. "No, little Prince," Hathor whispered to him, "that's a fish."
Ra smiled at Ihi, then frowned when his stare wandered toward one of the other tables. "Bastet...?" he said; then, "Lord Upuat...? What's wrong with all of you?"
All eyes turned toward the tables occupied by Upuat, Maftet, Sakhmet, Bastet, Sokar, and Khenti Amenti. The faces of these gods had gone ashen white, and they looked ready to pass out right in their food. In fact, that was what Bastet did, her head landing on a plate full of melon slices; Sokar hurriedly picked up the wine jug and started guzzling it down, growling, "If this is to be supper then I'm going to get myself as SOUSED AS I POSSIBLY CAN!"
Sakhmet reached for her cup. "Me too," she stated, and within moments everyone else at their table, save the unconscious Bastet, was busy drinking.
Ra stared at them for a long while, evidently confused. He at last turned to Thoth, standing beside him, and frowned. "Lord Thoth...? You have any idea what is going on here?"
Thoth's expression had changed as well as soon as Ihi had yelled out the name of his friend, his eyes widening, but now he had the same composed, neutral look as ever. "Nothing much, Majesty," he replied in the blandest voice he could muster, and his eyes narrowed a sliver. "Nothing that would make a very good blackmail story."