The Worth of a Soul
rating: +13+x

The wind blew hard against the pitted stone of the low wall built around the slowly-disappearing collection of hovels clustered along the bank of the Nile. A village, maybe, if one was feeling charitable about calling a few clay huts and a small corral a "village". A compound might be more appropriate, for at least there was a wall.

That wall was clearly never built to keep out the living. It was barely as tall as a man, and did not encircle the houses. Rather, it stood guard against a different threat, one that it seemed to be losing against today as sand, pushed by the wind, piled high along the side facing the endless desert of the deshret, the red land.

Inside one of the plaster and brick huts sat two men huddled about a small fire. Misery shown on their wind-scarred faces, etched itself in the set of bowed shoulders and in their hunched postures. Every so often, one of them would add a stick to the fire, carefully rationing their dwindling supply. They did not speak, for they would have to yell to be heard over the incessant roar of the sandstorm raging just outside of the fragile shell of their shelter. They didn't even look at each other to pass wordless communication in a sidelong glance or a simple gesture.

They simply sat there, closed in on themselves, staring into a fire too small to heat even the small room of the hut.

The storm had raged for days, and the two men were at the edge of desperation. The empty water skins cast to the side was testament to the long hours spent waiting, and the dry wrinkles in their skin spoke to a lifetime of careful water discipline, even in a land blessed with the waters of the Nile. The kemet, the black land, had almost succumbed to the rampaging onrush of the deshret, and the Nile floods had not come this year. Or the year before. Or the year before that.

Finally, one of them spoke, his voice cracked and hoarse from long hours of disuse as much as from a throat parched from thirst. "Raneb. We must leave this place. If we hurry, we can make it to the waters of Iteru, before Sutekh can cut us down."

The other just shook his head, saying nothing for a long while. At last, the other snorted in disgust and gathered his things as he made to leave. Finally, Raneb spoke, his voice also cracking from disuse. "Sit, Pah-isu. She bade us to wait. Have faith, She will come."

Pah-isu waved away the other's words and made a dismissive grunt. "Come with me, old friend. Nrt will not come, and will reward your faith only with death."

He stood, watching the other man for a long minute before taking Raneb's immobility as answer enough. Shaking his head, he pushed his way out of the hut and into the sand.

He never made it to the river, succumbing to the driving wind and biting sand before making it a score of steps from where Raneb huddled in the empty hut.

The sun rose, three days later, on a compound devoid of any signs of life. The storm had abated at some point in the night, but no one had yet disturbed the smooth lines of sand piled around the small huts. Only the tiled roofs remained visible above the dunes, the last sign that anyone had ever tried living here. Everything else had been buried and lost.

Raneb sat unmoving before a fire that had long since died. Only the barest hint of a breath betrayed that he yet lived, but that was shallow and slowing as he drew ever closer to the threshold of the Duat. Yet, he remained. Somehow, he persisted, and with his last breaths, he prayed, the words almost imperceptible changes in the pitch of his fading breath.

"Mother Goddess. It is my end. I go to the dead lands, head high. I met Your challenge, and I have not wavered. My last breath, I give to You."

The last moment seemed to stretch, and Raneb's slow exhalation continued long after it should have faded. And still, he sat, staring into the ash of the dead fire.

"You have not failed Me, He Who Walks Among the Reeds, but I have one more thing to ask of you, before you rest." Her words were soft, yet filled the small room like a living thing, her breath blowing warm across Raneb's cracked and sunken face. "Would you still serve Me, Raneb of the Reeds?"

A moment, then another, then the sound of a ragged inhalation broke the silence of the place and Raneb shuddered with it as he drew in the breath of the Goddess along with the air. He coughed once, then breathed in again, deeply, with far more surety than what should have been possible.

"What would You have me do, Mother?" His voice, powered by the Goddess' breath, was smoother, clearer. "I would still serve."

A soft laugh rustled through the room, and where there had just been the man hunched alone there now stood a tall woman dressed in shadow and falls of dust. Imperious and proud, gemstones glittered at her throat and hands, facets winking with an inner light as a kaleidoscope of color filled the small room.

"What is the worth of your Ka, Raneb of the Reeds?"

The man shuddered again, drawing another ragged breath. "It is all, Mother. For I am nothing without it."

She smiled down at him and gently touched the top of his head. "Then, it is enough, for you have shown me the worth of who you are. Give it to me, and I shall give you something in return."

"It has always been Yours, Mother, I have merely been borrowing it."

The Goddess laughed at that and shook Her head, sending a wild wash of color across his face. "No, my beautiful child, your Faith has been Mine, but your soul has always belonged to you. Would you sell it to Me now? In return, I shall give you My Name, to carry with you always."

For a moment, there is stillness again in the hut as he who was Raneb of the Reeds took a moment to realize the import of the decision he had immediately made.

"Of course, Mother. It is Yours."

She smiled again, and bent down to whisper something into his ear.

The Mother has carried many names, but she has only ever had one Name. To those that worshiped Her in the first days, She carried the name Nrt, the Mother Goddess. She Who Came First. Later, She carried the name of Nit, the Huntress, Nurse of Crocodiles. She also carried the names of Net, Niertu, Nath, and Net.

But She has always been Neith, and Her Name I carry within me still.

No, I shall not share Her True Name. She gave it to me long ago and bade me keep it, to remember Her Name always. There is power in a Name, especially one of the First Born. To speak it aloud without care could unravel all of creation itself, for She stood there at the Dawn, to watch the waters of Nu recede from the first day.

All it cost me was my soul, my Ka. A price I have never had reason to regret, not in all my long years.

From the desk of Issa Antar
Priest-Scribe of the Goddess Neith
May Her Name never be forgotten.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License