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image: Mystery of the Egyptian Scroll
by Scott Peters

Chapter One

The Thief

Dust hung thick over the Thebes marketplace. Standing before a mountain of clay pots, twelve-year-old Zet swatted a fly from his shoulders. The fly dive-bombed his head, and he swatted it again.
"Pots and dishes!" he shouted, waving a plate in the air.
"You’re supposed to be drawing customers over here," his sister Kat said. "You're scaring people off!"
He grinned.
Leaping over the pots, he landed where his sister sat studying the record of trades. Kat was eleven, and good with numbers and writing. Not that he’d ever tell her that.
"We need to do something," he said. "We haven’t sold a single thing all day."
"We haven’t sold a single thing all week." She pushed her dark bangs from her eyes and glanced up at him. She looked worried.
"Maybe it’s the heat," Zet said. "No one likes cooking when it’s this hot."
"Maybe it’s because we’re kids?" She held up a pottery shard covered with her neatly printed hieratic. "According to these, for every week that father’s been gone, sales have dropped."
She wasn’t the first one to think it. Zet had been wondering the same thing. He glanced across at a vegetable seller. Under his shaded awning, two women browsed the baskets loaded with beans and cabbages. A third bartered a length of fabric for her purchases.
"If it’s true, that’s not fair. Our father is off fighting Hyksos to keep Egypt safe," Zet said.
Maybe Zet was a kid, but he was as capable at running a stall as any of the adults. He’d promised he could take care of his family until his father returned, and his father trusted him. Maybe they were hungrier, but they wouldn’t starve. Zet wouldn’t let them. So why did he have this terrible knot in his stomach?
He jumped up. "We just need to make things more interesting. I could learn to juggle. I could juggle dishes, that would bring people over."
"Yes, but there would be nothing left to buy, because everything would be broken."
"Have some faith!" Zet said.
"We should rearrange the stall."
Zet groaned. "Again?" Move the mountain of clayware a fourth time? No way. He’d already fallen for his sister’s logic once too often.
"Don’t make that face," Kat said. "I’ve been taking notes, and when certain things are placed in view, those things draw customers over and—"
A scuffle of feet and shouts broke out by the goat stall.
Zet glanced across the market square. A man, deeply tanned, head shaved and wearing a threadbare tunic, broke free of the crowd and burst into view. The man sprinted around the goat pen, glanced back, and slammed into a basket of dates. The dates flew like cockroaches in every direction.
"Stop!" the date-owner screeched.
The man kept running.
"Not this way!" Zet said, darting forward as the man bumped into a stack of pots. Zet grabbed the stack, righted it, and then flew through the air to catch a falling dish. He landed belly first, with the plate in perfect, pristine condition. He rolled over and looked for Kat.
"See that? How’s that for juggling?"
Kat’s eyes were on the far alley. So much for proving a point. He turned to see three medjay officers sprint into view. Two carried wooden staffs, one had a curved bronze sickle, and another had a dagger on his belt and a fiber shield in his left hand.
"Where did he go?" one officer shouted.
The date-stall owner, an old man named Salatis, pointed to where the man had disappeared. Two of the medjay tore after him. The clank of their weapons echoed down the alley and disappeared.
The third medjay stood catching his breath. He was unarmed, but his gleaming insignia marked him as important, and his fists looked big enough to crush several thieves at once. The running had winded him. Zet wondered how long they'd kept up the chase.
The medjay mopped sweat from his dark face. He bent and picked up one of the fallen baskets and handed it to Salatis.
"I'd like to ask you a few questions," the medjay said, his voice deep and rumbling.
"Why?" Salatis said.
"I wondered if you recognized the man," the medjay said.
"Me?" Salatis said, in almost a shriek.
Zet rolled his eyes. It’s not like Salatis was in trouble. Still, no one wanted to be associated with thieves. That much Zet agreed with. You might get your hands cut off, or worse, your head.
"Maybe you'd sold dates to him before," the medjay said.
"How would I know?" Salatis said. "He was here and gone. And I don't remember my customers."
The medjay hooked his thumb into his kilt. "I'm not accusing you of anything, vendor. I just want some help here. Did you see his face?"
"All I saw were my dates, flying. Look at them!"
The medjay looked at the dates scattered in the dust.
"I can’t barter them now, can I? Who’s going to pay for this waste?"
Kat nudged her brother and whispered, "Look at Salatis, piling them into that reed basket. He’s going to barter them anyway, isn’t he? Even though they’re all dirty!"
Zet nodded, wrinkling his nose.
The medjay's face turned red. He stepped up to Salatis and grabbed him by the collar of his dirty tunic. "Stop that. Show some respect when an officer’s questioning you."
"I’m a victim here!"
"And I’m trying to do my job. I'd appreciate your cooperation. This is no ordinary thief we're hunting."
"They never are," Salatis snapped.
The medjay sighed and looked skyward. He reached into a pouch and pulled out a coin. "There’s a deben of copper in it," he said, holding the shiny piece of metal to the light.
At this, Zet started. A deben of copper? The medjay was willing to pay? He shoved the plate he’d saved into Kat’s arms, much to her surprise. Then he sprinted across the hot paving stones toward the officer.

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Copyright Scott Peters