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Mystery of the Egyptian Scroll

By Scott Peters

In ancient Egypt, Zet must capture a thief to earn a much-needed reward. Zet heads home, puzzling over what he's learned. With only a few mystifying clues, how can he possibly succeed?

Chapter 5

Soon, Zet could see their doorway up ahead.

Cozy lamplight spilled through the front window into the narrow street. The air smelled of rich stew and baking bread. Zet's stomach roared with hunger. He turned to his sister and said,

"Let's not tell Mother about this, all right?"

She frowned. "Why not? You mean lie?"

"I don't mean lie. I mean, just don't mention it."

"I'm not going to keep things from her. Why should I? First, she'd probably think it was interesting. And second—"

"And second, she'd think it was dangerous, that's what she'd think! And she'd tell me not to do it!"

"Well then maybe you shouldn't. Maybe you should be focusing on the stall instead of wasting time chasing after a thief. That's the medjay's job!"

Zet stared at her open mouthed. "You were excited about it before!"

"Yes, well that was before I had to keep it all secret."

"Kat, Mother has barely been out of bed since she gave birth. She's finally up and well enough to get around a little. I don't want to worry her! But this deben could mean a lot. Think of it! We need it."

She stared at him with that stubborn set of jaw he hated. "I am thinking of it. You'll be off running around on some wild chase, and I'll be at the stall alone. And it's hard enough getting customers with two of us!"

"I'll do both. I promise, I'll figure out a way."

Kat's lip jutted out a little, and she wound her braid around her fist. He could tell she was beginning to waver.

"Just one day," he said quickly. "Tomorrow. And if I can't figure out any more clues, we'll forget it. Deal?"

Kat blew out a breath. She glanced at their home, and back at Zet again. "Fine."

He grinned, elated.

"But just until tomorrow!" she said, rolling his eyes at his victory dance.

Over dinner, the mystery was temporarily forgotten. The family sat comfortably on overstuffed cushions before a low table. Lamplight danced on the whitewashed walls. Zet, Kat and his mother talked and laughed. It felt so good to see their mother back to her old self again.

Their baby brother, Apu, earned the most attention; he was trying to walk. The three cheered him on. The baby rewarded them by taking his first three unsteady steps. Then he squealed with delight and fell over.

Everyone wanted their turn to give him a hug of congratulations.

Later, while everyone got ready for bed, Zet knelt before the household shrine. Their statue of Bastet, the cat goddess, was small but made of the finest ebony. She had been the household god of his father, and his father's father before that. The statue had been handed down from father to son for many generations. One day it would be his. Age had softened her features. He lit a stick of incense and prayed to her for help in finding the thieves.

"Because it's not right to steal, and Padus shouldn't have to live in fear for something he did not do."

He rubbed Bastet's carved, ebony head. Even though she was a statue, he felt sure she enjoyed it.

He climbed up to the rooftop. During the very hot months, he and his sister liked to bring their sleeping pallets up there where it was cooler. Zet lay down under the vault of stars. For a long time, he tossed and turned. Finally, he pushed the linen sheet from his shoulder and sat up.

"Are you still awake?" he whispered to Kat.

"Yes," she mumbled.

"I want to go to the papyrus field. There might be a clue we're missing that the men left behind."

"Good idea. As long as you get up early and go before work."

"No. I'm going right now. What if those men go back to check and make sure they didn't leave anything?"

Kat struggled upright. He could see her staring, wide-eyed, in the moonlight. "That's exactly why you shouldn't go tonight. It's too dangerous!"

"I'll be careful," he said. He pulled on his kilt.

"I'm coming with you," Kat said.

"Forget it. Like you said, it's too dangerous."

She fastened her hair behind her neck in a low ponytail. "That's exactly why I'm coming. Someone has to keep an eye out while you search."

He had to admit it was a good idea. He could use a look-out.

He nodded. "All right. But we have to be quiet leaving."

"I know that!" she said. "I might be your younger sister, but I'm not a baby."

They crept downstairs. Zet found the oil lamp in the kitchen, along with a flint and an extra wick. Barefoot, they padded outside.

In the narrow streets, they kept to the shadows. Even though they weren't doing anything wrong, people would question why two kids were out at this hour. They didn't need strangers slowing them down with questions. They needed to move fast, before their mother awoke and found them gone.

"How far is this place?" Kat whispered.

"Past the old palace, and then down the long road that leads south out of town."

"All the way out there?"

"You're the one who said you wanted to come. Now come on, let's hurry up."

It was hard to find their way in the dark. Things looked different at night.

"I recognize that chapel," Kat said. "It's the chapel of Mut. Look, there's the goddess's Hearing Ear shrine. I'm pretty sure we turn left."

She was right. There was the niche on the chapel’s side wall. Inside was the shrine with the stele—the stone carving—covered with dozens of engraved ears. During the day, the Hearing Ear shrine would often be crowded with worshipers coming to speak to the goddess. They’d ask her for favors or help with whatever ailed them. Now, it was empty.

Moments later, they were passing the old palace.

Soon, they reached the road out of town. The air smelled different. Night-blooming flowers perfumed the soft breeze. Mixed with the flowers came the brackish smell of the Nile River.

It felt strange and exciting and dangerous to be out walking at this late hour.

"I think we're almost there," Zet whispered. "He said there was a white road marker, followed by a stand of acacia." He pointed. "There's the road marker."

"And there's the stand of acacia!" Kat said.

And beyond that, they could easily see the thick shoots of papyrus rising to meet the dark sky. Zet, excited, sprinted ahead. Kat caught up quickly.

He paused before a path that led into the dark, towering plants.

∞ ∞ ∞

Come back next week to find out what happens in Chapter 6.

(Read Chapter One Here)

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