• It was in the 9th year of our lord's glorious reign, on the night before the Wag festival in the first month of Akhet that I was magically conceived under the influences of certain pre-determined astrological arrays. The child of a chantress of Hathor and a lector priest of the Temple of Seshat, I was raised without parents, a sacred ward of the Temple of Seshat. I was bred for destiny.

    But I was never named. Every other man or woman in the Two Lands, indeed perhaps everyone in the whole world -- even in the most remote and savage places-- is given a name at birth. Everyone but me.

    As a small child, I lived like a cat. I slept where I would, ate what I could and was generally underfoot in the temple kitchen. My earliest memories are watching the preparation of the ritual loaves and the blessing of the milk and butter by the priests. I recall snuggling warm and a little sleepy in a soft linen lap, drinking warm honeyed milk from an ostrich egg cup in the chill pre-dawn hours of the morning as the vats of fresh, steaming milk were censed and blessed for use in the temple.

    I can still see in my mind's eye the red clay stamp of the temple bakery as it is impressed into the dough of honey cakes and emmer loaves, the harvest of tender lettuces from the temple gardens arrayed in shallow reed baskets on a great wooden table in the shade in order to be asperged by the Nile water that cleanses the influence of Set from their leaves. The kitchen girls called me "Sweet Cucumber".

    In time I outgrew the sweetmeats and slaps of the kitchen and became fascinated by the work of the priestly scribes. I began to gravitate to the per-medja. I was given a small reed mat in the corner, a palette with a slot that held a reed pen, and thin slab of greywacke. I would dip my pen in water instead of ink and scrawl on the stone, my signs disappearing like the breath of Shu. The scribes were often annoyed with me and called me "Lungs".

    Sometimes in the golden afternoons, when I was fidgety or asked too many questions, I was driven out into the walled yard and gardens. Alone, only child of the temple, ritually ignored, I played my solitary games, emulating the scribes as best I could with a sharpened stick, scratching rough glyphs in the dirt and pronouncing portentous utterances as I had heard the lector priests do. Most of this rustic magic was concerned with a pure white pony, which I was sure would be very magical and make me very happy.

    By the time I was seven I had learned to read the outer meaning in full. Even though my calligraphy and voicing was still quite atrocious it was decided that I should be presented for inquiry before the polymaths of the temple.

    Aside from my magical conception, it was perhaps the pivotal moment of my entire life and, oddly, I remember little of it. What I do recall seems strangely stylized, as if carved on a pylon in hieroglyphs rather than lived by me. I recall the temple scholars, astrologers, engineers and surveyors seated together on a dais and arrayed in the pectorals and collars of their office. I seem to remember being shown a calculating device, solving some word puzzles and playing a game not unlike Senet. Perhaps the only thing I remember with clarity is that before I could be permitted into the inner court of the polymaths, I was required to bathe immersed in hot water and to have all my limbs and head shaved. I had never taken a hot bath or been anointed with oils or been shaved until that day and I remember feeling proud and pampered as a prince.

    Thus it came to pass that at the age of seven, upon the advice of the masters of the temple, I was taken under the wing of the chief architect priest, Hetep-seshat, a kheri-heb priest of the Temple of Seshat who had been a Tjaty to the royal court and the senior advisor to the previous Per'ah in the building of his mortuary temple. Hetep-seshat was already an old man when I came to him. His wife had died many years before in childbirth and he had never remarried, preferring to live alone except for his servants and his scrolls and implements in a great empty house at the outskirts of town.

    Hetep-seshat received me in his library that first day, as was always his wont. I remember that he asked me my name and I answered rather defensively that I had none. And why is that? he asked me with a penetrating look. So that I may grow up to be a great and powerful servant of Seshat like you, said I. He laughed and drew me onto his lap to show me a papyrus scroll with a long list of many skills and endeavors written in the finest and most delicate hand. Hetep-seshat placed in my small hand a fine ivory wand and read each of the glyphs aloud in the truest of voices as I touched them one by one with the tip of the wand. I was dazzled. He explained to me that these were the learnings I would receive under his tutelage-- not only the most careful training in the Temple of Seshat's mathematics, magic and ritual, but I was also to receive instruction in true voice utterance by the chantresses of Isis, perfected calligraphy by the priests of Djehuti, and cunning spycraft and warcraft by the Set priest incarnate.

    For I was to be a magical weapon. The Blade of Seshat, as it is written in the holy books, One-who-cuts-the-rope. And it was for that reason that I was never to be named or known lest by magic my name be used against me or my secret work for the Per'ah.

    Hetep-seshat taught me all he knew and had the wisdom to know that he did not know all... So that I might become fluent in the languages of our enemies, Hetep-seshat surrounded me with native-speaking slaves. Each day I trained with a weapons master and every afternoon I studied with a master of the cunning arts. I studied astrology and inscription and amulet-making and herbology and diverse techniques with wax and clay and faience. I learned the distillation of poisons and the compounding of lies. I learned to disguise myself and cover my tracks and sail by the stars.

    The house of Hetep-seshat was like a dream come true. It was as if I had suddenly found a father or grandfather, sometimes gruff, sometimes warm, always precise and measured and learned. He held me dear as his child, and for my part, I loved him as I had never loved anyone before. My heart strained after his least word of praise and quailed before his soft-spoken corrections. I revered him, adored him and was amazed by his erudition and his great skill with magic. I wanted to be the best for him. To make him proud. To be a proper vessel for the millions of magical lessons he poured into me slowly, programmatically, year after year. I practiced my calculations and measurements and the true voiced intent of my utterances deep into the night, so that I might delight him with my performance the very next morning at breakfast. I studied and I worked and I learned everything I could so that he might be pleased in me, so that I might feel worthy of his blessing and affection. So that I might be worthy to be the secret weapon of the Per'ah Ninetjer, may he live forever.

    I had been bred for a secret destiny and now I was trained to perfection to go out and meet it. My facility with numbers was visceral. My eyes and ears measured; I did not calculate, I knew. I spent years developing a systematized memory palace and the ability to pass quite unnoticed. I knew six languages, thousands of ciphers and spells, eight methods of divination and hundreds of ways to kill without leaving a mark. My body was lithe and strong and untiring. I ate and slept little.

    Often as I carved a particular scarab spell or ground a scrying glass, Hetep-seshat would sit nearby in his phoenix chair, take the rays of the sun and discourse on philosophy or ethics or some other abstract topic while drinking beer from a Anatolian black salt-clay pitcher that kept its contents cool by al-Khemi. How he loved drinking cold beer and treasured that special jug! How I miss Hetep-seshat.

    On the night Hetep-seshat died, I was twenty-three years old. For months I had sat in the guttering light of a low lamp night after night, listening to his rasping breath as he explained everything again and again, guarding his restless sleep, carving and magically charging the many amulets and scarabs that would protect and empower him in death.

    With my own hand I carved the offering stele and the false door for his tomb. It was I who selected the spells and scenes depicted on the walls and oversaw their precise depiction. I cut the finest linen for his bindings. I washed and anointed his beloved body. I laid him in the natron with a kiss. Every aspect, every detail critical to my dearest lord's justification-- I saw to them with all the learning and force of heka he had taught me.

    For forty days and nights I wandered in the dusty hills outside the city or sat in a strange timeless stupor in the closed darkness of the empty house. When I laid his Osiris body in the tomb and performed the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, I wept inconsolably. I had arranged for certain areas of the tomb walls to be left blank for me to append the most powerful and secret spells immediately before the coffin and the tomb were closed. For three more days and nights I performed the necessary rites, focused my intention and inner voice and inscribed the powerful spells that would place a seal of protection on the tomb and the justified akh of Hetep-seshat. I used all the skills and mastery he had taught me combined with the magical capacities he had awakened in me to ensure his rebirth into immortality.

    My focus on my mathematical, architectural and magical studies with Hetep-seshat had sheltered me from the politics and intrigues of the day, but now, having laid my lord to rest, I awakened to the rumors and threats of war. Already skirmishes in the north had claimed many villages and towns and Per'ah's conscription officers had been scouring the taverns and brothels in town.

    It was now time for me to fulfill my destiny, to set in motion the grand plan conceived by the masters of the Temple of Seshat some years before my birth: to research and to build a magical model of our enemy's city in excruciating magical detail in order that it might be utterly destroyed.

    It is for this sacred secret reason I was created.

    And so began the journey that became my life: Outfitted by the priests of Seshat, I traveled to the barbarian land under cover of darkness and disguise. A blind beggar. A mendicant. A desert prophet. I murdered a man in the hills and donning his robes and tablets, I entered the city as a foreign merchant and learned entire the language and acts of business. Later, I switched identities and became a kitchen servant in the royal house-- the better to know and map its halls and functions. From there I arranged by detailed work and lowered eyes to become a trusted steward to the provisioner for the army of the enemy king. And finally, I subjugated myself to the autocratic will of the priests of their blasphemous gods so that I might learn the inner channels, the prayers and spells and sovereign names of the enemy's heart.

    The results of these researches I twisted into a magic rope, a clear, concise report to be read only by the fingers of a kheri-heb priest of the Temple of Seshat. To the fondlings of any other: a mere decorative fringe. My reports shipped unnoticed with the spring rug caravans.

    For twelve years I lived in the city of the enemy, constructing a memory palace of their houses and streets, temples and royal courts, just as Hetep-seshat had taught me. During the day my senses recorded with the clarity of a handprint in wet white sand. Each night before sleep I lay with my eyes shut and my faculty of inner heka fully engaged, firming, shaping, shading, building the memory palace of the enemy city in my mind.

    On the night I articulated the last detail in the memory palace, the last blue glazed brick set next to the final rosette at the top of the north corner of the Great Gate — only recently finished in the city and thus the lateness of its arrival in the memory palace — I did not sleep at all. In my mind, all night, I walked every street in every neighborhood, peeking in windows and glancing down alleys. I swaggered through the taverns near the port. I circumnavigated the great granaries. I traversed the royal bed chambers and leaped up the steps of the temple ziggurat. Perfect, everything perfect. Captured and bound in perfect delineation.

    From here, on high, I surveyed my work and I knew that I was ready to begin the actual work.

    I changed my identity yet again and became the amanuensis of a wealthy and eccentric, lame dowager whose household and orchards were conveniently outside the city, near the clay deposits from which the bricks of the city were made. The dowager rose early and for a time in the morning I assisted her. But she tired quickly and most evenings retired to her bedchambers not two hours after sundown.

    My apartments were well-situated away from the main house. Having once been storerooms for luxury goods imported by the dowager's deceased merchant husband, they were located on a second floor with a stout, locked door. This afforded me the quiet and privacy necessary, as the model was rather large.

    The model and all my implements were locked in a large inner room into which I had set a large skylight with exterior mounted shutters glazed with sheets of mica. Just like the one in Hetep-seshat's per-medja. Thus the model was suffused by the golden face of Hathor during the day and absorbed the influences of Nut by night. In an alcove on the western wall, I inset a small alcove so that Seshat herself might oversee the work. All four walls were painted with magical scenes of the surrounding landscape. The model was arrayed on a large wooden kitchen table with a shelf beneath that held my clay, paints, molds and knives. The floor was swathed in white sand – to protect me.

    It took me ten years and 142 days to complete the magical model. If pressed, I could have finished earlier, but I received news that the Per'ah Ninetjer had died and priorities had changed…so I afforded myself the luxury of working at a more forgiving pace. I found that I took great pleasure in the work. It was exacting and all-consuming. Of an evening I would lock the doors and sit in the sand in the heka room and carve or paint, singing softly and enjoying the night sky. About three months in advance of completing the model, I sent a message to the Temple of Seshat via a leather bundle filled with small clay bulla bound with a magic rope. To be absolutely sure, I followed this with three additional papyris missives, each carried by a different hand.

    Even after the model was finished, I continued the work—altering the miniature houses and stores, streets and taverns to reflect changes in the city.

    News from Ta-Mera was sporadic and confusing. Elaborate euphemisms replaced commonly accepted glyphs. A few messages seemed to have been delayed overlong and arrived after newer reports. The last message I received was six years ago in spring.

    That summer I locked up the heka room. And waited. My evenings now unencumbered, I taught myself to play the harp and later wrote a definitive treatise on the relations of the strings in harmonies — which received the distinction of being placed in the library of the great enemy king.

    The dowager was aged, but reasonably healthy and happy; my training in healing and herbology served her well. It being the country, we took our meals together. I tended the flower and herb gardens and saw to the dairy, brewing and weaving. I made the menus and settled the accounts. I oversaw the fruit drying and the pressing and storage of the oil. I adopted a stray cat and together we would take rambling walks in the dusty twilight hours. I called him "Surefoot". In the mornings I would present a report to the dowager as she took her mint tea.

    Eleven days ago — it seems a million years as I write this — the dowager awakened in the night with fever and flux. Her lady's maid called for me and I hurried forth in my night robe. Her skin was yellowed and stretched over her bones. She groaned and called out to the birth goddess, for she said it was the like of a birth pang that seized her. We had taken our evening meal together and she had drunk two tumblers of wine and eaten peppered fish so I felt sure it was just the injustice of old digestion. I advised her to drink a little water. And just to be sure, I sent a young serving girl to my rooms to bring the case that held my medicines and tinctures. The dowager smiled and bade me sit by her side. I tucked her in and took her hand and simply sat and soon she drifted off into a semi-sleep. And so did I.

    I awakened to the sound of shrieks and a roaring commotion. I went to the window but couldn't see. I clattered down the stairs in my house sandals and out into the walled yard. Straight ahead, backed by the orchards, and beyond, the city, my apartments were on fire. The entire building engulfed in flames that shot up into the belly of Nut. The ruddy light transformed the assembled household into red demons, crouching in the dirt. The servant girl lay in a heap in the yard with a young man from the oil presses crumpled nearby. The man who tended the cows handed me a wet piece of linen to tie over my face and together we organized the servants to pour water in the orchards. The task consumed us all. Then we heard the cries of the dowager's maid in the upstairs window. Sparks had set the roof alight. It spread quickly, as if by magic, and in the moments I stood, struck still with the sudden knowledge of the source of that magic, the fire consumed my dowager's bed chamber. The lady's maid leapt but there was no one to break her fall. I turned away, only to see that in the distance, the entire city was burning. Within seven days it was utterly destroyed.

    In my country, only the foulest criminals are punished by legally altering their ren to a name that damns their ba and curses their ka with every utterance. Yet at least the monster who rapes or the murderer of children has a name. I have no name. And therefore I do not exist. I pass un-noticed. I cannot be cursed.

    I am no one. I have no family, no loved ones, no lord or lady. No home. This empty desert wadi will be my tomb. I am sheut, a shadow… destined only for an ignominious death. And yet I am the most powerful magician in all of Kemet, kheri-heb priest of the Temple of Seshat and master magical model maker to Per'ah Ninetjer, sole conjuror of the powerful magic that has brought down the city of our enemy.