Forsaking the River

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II - Mask & Bells

Atta was in the temple, still kneeling, when it all happens.

Was she dreaming?

Dreaming of meeting the god Osiris?

Dreaming that she was going to die?

Soon? How soon?

When?

Why?

So many unanswered questions in Atta’s minds.

She was soon to be 21, in 3 days to be exact. Too young to die. Too young to leave her family. Atta wasn’t afraid of dying before. But now that a god personally came to warn her, she couldn’t find herself to be brave anymore. Leaving everyone behind, so soon, and god knows when.

Atta braced herself nonetheless. She stood up. Clenched her linen dress, and walked back to her house. She noticed that it was midday when she stepped into the temple, now the sun is starting to set. How long did she talk with Osiris? It only felt like no more than a short moment. She didn’t even hear the evening bell.

She reached her house, finding all her family members inside. Her father still wearing the jackal mask on his head. Bethsai removed his mask, and handed it to Atta. Atta grasped at it. Then opened her mouth to explain things.

“I’m going to die,”

She blurted out. No one was concerned at this point. Her family was used to her melancholically saying she wants to die, without actually acting on it, now her family thinks she’s joking.

“Yes, Atta, we’re all going to die. It’s normal. Now put that mask down, and help me prepare this dinner,”

Her mother said, not concerned at all.

“No, mama. I’m really going to die soon. I-I met god Osiris…”

Atta started, her family gawked at her like she just grew another head. Atta explained what happened at the temple, and what god Osiris warned her about. Her family didn’t believe at first but now they appear more concerned.

“We will, prepare the best embalming. But now, clean that helmet for me, Atta.”

Her father joked.

Unbelievable! Here she was afraid of dying yet, no one seems to believe her!

Atta went to the nearest water source, to clean the jackal mask. It reeks of rotten stench, sweat and myrrh. A disgusting combination. After cleaning the mask, now it was her that reeks. She took the mask with her to the bath house. Not wanting to return home yet. It was dinner time, so no one was there in the bath house. She noticed a few golden jackals would run around chasing small insects and other animals, disappearing whenever she noticed them, then appearing when she didn’t pay attention.

She stripped down and keep her clothes to the side, placing the jackal mask on top of the pile. She draws water from the well and filled the tub with water. When the tub was filled, she stepped in it and relaxed. The water was cool, protecting her from the sting of the setting sun. Her skin that was covered with sand, dirt and sweat was now relatively clean.

Atta noticed there is now a jar beside her tub. It wasn’t there before. She took it and smelt it.

It was scented olive oil. It smells good, and she bet it’ll feel good on her skin too.

She got out of the water, and drained the tub. Picking up the oil jar, she lathered her body with the oil. Starting with her arms, and neck. Down the curves of her bosom to her thighs and the rest of her legs. Massaging it in some places. She picked up the jackal mask of her father’s. Maybe she should cover the mask in oil too. That might make it cleaner longer. Atta was curious how her father performed the embalming service with this mask. The mask was to symbolize the god Anubis, with his jackal head. Atta puts on the mask. The mask a bit big on her, but still fits quite snuggly. She rotates her head around trying to see through the mask and feel how her father felt when he works.

Atta turned her head to the left and found a strange man with a jackal mask staring back at her.

He wasn’t here before.

And no one has entered the bath house.

Atta took off the mask and the man was gone.

Then she wore the mask again.

And there the man stands. Arms crossed, muscles bulging. Skin golden like that jackals she saw in front of the bath house. That mask looks really real. Like it’s one with his body. Golden jackal mask, adorned with golden piercings on the ear, and tight golden neck piece on his neck. Those gold jewelries look like real gold.

Then she realized that she’s very much naked and oily, and slippery. She tried to ran the opposite way from the man, before she knocked the oil jar, spilling the content on the floor. Atta thought this was how she was going to die. She’s going to die naked, in front of a man with weird jackal mask, slipping on fragrant oil.

At least she’ll die smelling nice.

But before she hits the floor, the masked man grasped her slippery arm, pulling her towards his chest. Atta tried to push him away, but her hands ends up rubbing all over his naked torso with the oil residue. Now everything is slippery, and oily. The man’s muscled body now very shiny and inviting.

“O-oh! I am so- so sorry! I-I didn’t mean to—”

Atta starts to flail her arms and body in his hold, panicking.

“Calm down…”

His voice was calm, and serene. Low and smooth like the deep Nile river. Both of his hands grasping tight at Atta’s body. One at her back, one settled lower, near her hips. Who is this man, who is embracing her naked body so close. Atta has heard about the embalmers who violated female corpses, but not this pervert.

And this pervert’s arms feel so comfortable. It feels like home. Like everything is alright, like she didn’t just hear the news of her dying soon. Being kept so close to him, she can smell him. His scent was… peculiar, yet familiar. It wasn’t like anything Atta has smelt, but she feels like she knows this scent very well. Does that make sense?

“Please release me now.”

The masked man released her ever so slowly, lingering his light touches. For someone so masculine, his touches are very gentle. For some reason, Atta didn’t mind this stranger’s touch. The masked men stepped back a little, to give Atta some space.

“P-Please turn around”

The man did as she asked. She looks back at the man gingerly, only to find him gone.

That was strange. But she paid it no attention and went to the well to rinse her body off from the oil. She took the mask off, and dressed back into her old outfit.

***

It was dark when she returned home. She hangs the mask outside the house to let it dry from the night’s cold wind.

“Where did you go, Atta?”

Her mother’s concerned voice rang. They just finished dinner apparently.

“I went to the bath house.”

Atta said sitting down in front of the food, ready to feast on her mother’s cooking. Her mother joined her, resuming her weaving. Her brother and father prepared to go to the bath house, to clean themselves too. Leaving her alone with her mother.

“Soon is your name day, Atta. You will be 21 in 3 days.”

Her mother mentioned. It indeed is. Usually the females here marry at age 13, like her mother. However, no man has claimed Atta as his wife yet, and Atta does not have any intention to get married soon. Her mother has been matchmaking her with the neighbor’s sons or even older men. Most of them declined the offer, or ends up dead in the Nile. Which was super weird. But Atta has never liked any of these men. She suddenly remembered the man from the bath house. Usually Atta wouldn’t like it when people, especially men, touching her. But the masked man was, different. Atta never seen him before. Was he an outsider?

Her mother sighed, “When are you going to get married, sweet Atta?” Her mother sighed again. Like a damsel in distress.

“You knew that no men want me, Mama”

Atta tear pieces from the fish, and then put it on her bread, pouring some of the soup on it. Scooping the bread with her bare hands, then biting into it. And yet again, her mother sighed.

“They want you, Atta. It’s just… They usually changed their minds. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want you!”

Her mother encourages her. Maybe she thought, Atta would be sad. Atta went silent for a moment. Thinking whether to tell her mother about the man in the bath house or not.

“I… met someone, Mama.”

Her mother dropped her weave, excitement sparkled in her eyes, as she whipped her body towards Atta.

“Who is it?!”

“I met a man… Just now. In the bath house… I think he’s an outsider. I’ve never seen him here, before.”

Atta explained the man to her mother. And her mother practically begged to give her more information. So she does.

“Alright! Your father and I shall search for the man and when we found him, we shall go together to ask him to marry you!”

“But, Mama!”

“No buts, sweet Atta! We must hurry, if we managed to find him before your 21st name day, you can have your wedding ritual at the same time! We can make it festive!” Her mother left the living space to her bedroom, just to pull out a long, white cloth. The weaving tight, it must have cost a fortune. This looks similar to what the pharaoh’s clothing material.

“This is my wedding kalasiris, my mother also wore this, as so the females before her, Atta.”

Her mother approached her, suddenly measuring her against the dress.

“It should fit rather tightly, as you are bigger than the females in our previous families, but tis fine!”

Filled big bodies means you’ve eaten more than the average people, which signifies the status of someone. As the daughter of a chief embalmer, she definitely is higher in status than the common people here.

Her father and brother came home, and her mother gladly shared what just happened. Agreeing with the plan, her father told her brother to help search for the man as well. Considering he was wearing a mask even in the bath house, he probably would wear it on the streets as well. Hearing this, her father was confused. An outsider man, wearing a mask signifying the god of the dead, Anubis, in public? Isn’t that rude to the pharaoh. However, his daughter seems to like this mysterious man, so he let it slide.

***

Her whole family and even some neighbors have tried searching for this masked man for 2 days. But she was nowhere to be found. Tomorrow is her name day. And it seems like marriage has slipped past Atta’s finger yet again.

“I’m sorry, child. But it seems to be futile to search for the non-existent man.”

Her father pats her shoulder in a comforting manner. Her father opened his mouth again to continue speaking, before Atta interrupted him.

“No Baba, I will not marry Ini. He is my brother, and the idea of being intimate with him is just disgusting.”

Her father shut his mouth immediately. It was common for siblings to get married, but for his son and daughter it is a disgusting act. It is true that Bethsai almost married his sister, but thankfully, Ara appeared at the right time.

The evening bell rang. Signifying the sun is starting to set.

“That’s all for today then. Tomorrow we will have your name day celebration, like usual.”

Her father leads her family back to the house.

However, when they entered the house, there stood the jackal masked man! Sitting on the ground where they usually eat.

“Bethsai.”

The masked man addressed her father. Her father was confused to how an outsider could have known his name, before the masked man addressed her other family members. After addressing them, he stood up, in front of Bethsai. A pouch in his hand. He then offered it to Bethsai.

“This is my offering for you. In exchange for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

Atta and her mother gasped. Her father checked the content of the pouch, and there it was, coins and coins of gold pieces. This much gold coins could feed Atta’s family till 3 generations, without ever needing to work a single day. Bethsai could only nodded. Not only this man was rich, but he also exudes a pressuring aura. This man is a powerful man. Atta would definitely be safe in his hands.

The mysterious man then walked towards Atta. Stretching out his hands for her to grasp. Bethsai and Ini noticed something about the man. He smells familiar. He smells like something common, yet they couldn’t put it in words.

Atta however, didn’t remember him having this pressuring aura. This pressure felt similar to that time she went to meet Osiris. Who exactly is this man?

Atta reached out her hand to meet his. Her small hands fit perfectly in his large ones. For a man who has golden skin, he is colder than she thought. The man placed her head on his naked chest, embracing her like that time in the bath house. It felt right to put her head on his chest. It felt like home. Regardless how she felt, her family needs explaining. Who exactly is marrying their daughter. Her father cleared his throat. The masked man released Atta to address her father once again.

“My name is Nu. I originated from Asyut.”

“Isn’t it quite far to travel to Abydos from there?”

“It is. It took me 6 days to travel by foot. I arrived here 3 days ago. I met your daughter then.”

So, he was here all along. How did he eluded the search, Bethsai couldn’t fathom. He must have heard about the family from the neighbors.

“We plan to arrange the marriage ritual tomorrow, on Atta’s 21st name day.”

Atta’s mother explained to the masked man slowly, searching for signs of a ‘no’. But the masked man only nodded and reached for Atta once again.

They had Atta’s parents’ permissions. What about the masked man’s?

“You do not need to bother with my family, for they are long gone.”

The masked man spoke, still focused with Atta in his arms.

Everything is settled.

Now the wedding is on.

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