Read The Wadjet Eye Online

Authors: Jill Rubalcaba

The Wadjet Eye

BOOK: The Wadjet Eye
The Wadjet Eye
Jill Rubalcaba


Clarion Books
a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint
215 Park Avenue South. New York. NY 10003
Copyright © 2000 by Jill Rubalcaba

The text for this book was set in 11-point Nofret.

All rights reserved.

For information about permission
to reproduce selections from this book,
write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.

Printed in the USA.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rubalcaba, Jill.
The wadjet eye / by Jill Rubalcaba.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references ( ).
Summary: After his mother dies, Damon, a young medical
student living in Alexandria, Egypt, in 45 B.C., makes a perilous
journey to Spain to locate his father, who is serving in the
Roman army led by Julius Caesar.
ISBN 0-595-68942-2
1. Egypt—History—552–50 B.C.—Juvenile fiction. 2. Rome—History—
Republic, 265–30 B.C.—Juvenile fiction. 1. Egypt—History—
332–30 B.C.—Fiction. 2. Rome—History—Republic, 265–30 B.C.—Fiction.
3. Voyages and travels—Fiction. 4. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction]
I. Title.
PZ7.R8276 Wad 2000 [Fic]—dc21

HAD 10 9 8 7 6 5

For Dan—
it's my good fortune to have you by my side.
And for Kelly and Danny,
who make the journey so much fun.


Even before Damon came fully awake, he knew she was dead. Her hand felt cold and stiff in his. He didn't open his eyes, just waited for the tears. But they didn't come.

Instead, frustration welled into the back of his throat until he thought he would choke. What good were his studies if he couldn't cure his own mother? The root he'd brought home from medical school and mashed with mortar and pestle had done nothing for her pain. He hadn't even been able to spare her that.

The Pharaoh's own physician, Damon's teacher, Olympus, lectured long on the miracles of modern medicine. Where were the miracles for his mother? Damon hadn't found them. His notes on Praxagoras's theories on blood vessels lay rolled in the corner. Had they saved her? No. She had died anyhow.

Damon had known from the beginning he couldn't stop the thing that grew inside her. He had seen many die this way. The one lump had borne more, extending her stomach outward as if she were pregnant. But no child grew there. All the theories in the Museum combined could not even give her comfort in the end. Why did he study if it all came to this?

Her hand felt as if it were sucking the heat from his own, as if death were spreading up his arm. Gently, he twisted his hand, trying to free it from her fingers that had frozen clutching his. He stopped. Images came to him of his fellow students breaking the fingers off corpses in search of riches hidden by their death grasp. Would her fingers snap? He couldn't leave his hand in hers forever. He pulled again—carefully.

His hand slipped from hers. Her fingers circled nothing now. He covered her open hand with his own and smoothed it. When the stiffness passed, he would place her hands on her heart. Now he could do nothing. All along he had been able to do nothing. Damon covered his face with his hands, massaging his temples with his fingertips. He'd done nothing but watch her waste away.

In the swirl of thoughts that spun and wouldn't rest, a noise surfaced. Knocking. It must have been continuing for some time. He had heard, but he had not heard.

Damon stood stiffly, kneading his lower back with his thumbs. It ached from his having slept so long in the chair. He left his mother's sleeping chamber, closing the door behind him. Who would call so late? He was startled when he saw light streaming through the arches of the inner walls. Was it morning? The knock turned to pounding. Damon thrust open the door, annoyed at the intrusion.

His friend Artemas filled the doorway. "I checked the Museum first. They said you hadn't been there for days. I was worried."

Damon had stood up too fast. He leaned against the wall, waiting for the shadows that clouded his vision to pass. He could see the tall outline of Artemas's muscular frame and the white of his tunic, but the familiar face was blurred. Damon could only make out the curl of his wavy hair and the bend of his hawk nose.

"Are you all right?" Artemas asked.

"She has crossed to the other bank."

"I'm sorry."

Damon nodded. He didn't trust his voice. Especially with Artemas. Artemas was like a brother. Damon couldn't remember a time when he hadn't known him. Their mothers told the story of how they had crawled for each other in the market seventeen years ago. As if even as babies they knew that their fates were connected. Now their mothers must be telling that same story in the Field of Reeds, where Artemas and he could not hear them.

When he saw the tears fill Artemas's eyes, Damon looked away. Why couldn't lie cry? Artemas was the physically strong one—nearly twice Damon's size. Damon was as thin and weak as a papyrus reed, and yet Artemas could weep—why couldn't he?

Damon reached under the stone bench for his sandals. "I must summon the embalmers. She wanted to be prepared in the way of the ancients."

"I can go get them for you, or if you would rather, I could stay." Artemas looked past Damon to the closed door of the death chamber. He swallowed. "Or I could go..."

Why in the name of Ra did Artemas want to become a soldier if he was so afraid of blood and death? The young assistants in the dissection rooms at the Museum weren't as squeamish, and they were no more than ten years old.

"I'll stay with her," Damon said. He walked Artemas to the courtyard and watched him pass through the gate and disappear in the twists of the lane that led to the center of town.

Damon turned to go back inside the villa. For the span of one heartbeat he expected to hear his mother's cheerful greeting. He felt his heart stopwhen no greeting came, and then pain filled his chest when his heart began to beat again.

Damon went back to the gate. He tucked his straight black hair behind his ears and leaned his head between the iron rods, feeling the coolness on his temples. He closed his eyes and waited for Artemas to return with the embalmers.


"We cannot prepare her." The embalmer quickly backed toward the gate in the courtyard.

Damon followed the embalmer, clutching at his linen tunic. "But why? I have plenty of gold, if that's your worry. We've saved for this." He could give him the Venetian glass, too. There was plenty to pay the man.

"It's not a question of gold. You'll find no one who will touch her." The embalmer extended his palms to Damon helplessly. "The plague..."

"But she did not die from a plague."

Artemas stepped behind the embalmer, blocking his exit. He stood with arms crossed over his broad chest. "There has been no plague in this house."

"The sores..." The embalmer looked from Artemas to Damon.

"Those are just bedsores," Damon pleaded. "She was sick for a very long time. Toward the end she could barely move. Besides, you know there has been no outbreak of plague in Alexandria for months."

"We cannot be sure," whined the embalmer.

"But I can. I've been with her. She had no plague."

"We cannot risk it. We cannot bring her to the Beautiful House. Her body should be burned, the way of the barbarians."

Damon flinched. His father was Roman; that made Damon half, as the embalmer said, barbarian.

"But she was Egyptian."

The embalmer shrugged. "You could take her to the desert. Before coffins, it was done that way. The sands will preserve her."

"And risk the jackals digging her up and tearing her apart? Her ka condemned to roam the Red Land forever?" Damon wanted to strike the man.

"Cover her with stones. They may not dig her up."

"Get out." Damon held up his hand to stop the man's babble. He'd hear no more.

"I am not to blame." The embalmer backed into Artemas. Artemas stepped aside, and the embalmer fell on his backside. He scrambled on his hands and knees out into the street.

The months of frustration boiled up in Damon. Months of failure. He slammed the gate behind the embalmer. He pulled it open and slammed it again. The pin crumbled the mortar in the wall, and still he slammed it. He slammed it until the top pin came free and the gate hung from the bottom pin at a dangerous angle. Artemas grabbed Damon around the waist with one arm, hoisting him off his feet.

Damon struggled against Artemas, kicking the air. He might as well have struggled against Ra. "Let me go!"

But Artemas held tight. Finally, Damon went limp, and Artemas lowered him to the ground. Damon cursed the gods, cursed Anubis and his embalmers, cursed himself. He had failed his mother again.


"You can do it." Artemas paced the courtyard. "Embalm her?" Damon shook his head. "I can't."

"Why not? You're a physician, aren't you?"

"My own mother?" Damon sat down hard on the stone bench. He pushed the hair out of his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck.

Artemas bent down, his face close to Damon's. "Do you have a better idea?"

"I've never even seen an embalming."

"There's the desert, then. Enough rocks ...

Damon clenched his fists. "The scavengers are sure to rip her body to shreds. Without her body, her ka will have no place to go ... for eternity."

"Then the Roman way. You're half Roman."

may be tainted with Roman blood, but
wasn't. She never understood the Roman ways." Damon shook his head. "And I never understood why she loved him. They were so different."

"You're different from your father, but surely
love him?"

"I don't know him."


"You wouldn't understand. Your father sits with you for the evening meal each night. I can't even remember what my father looks like."

"A soldier's life is full of sacrifice."

"What of
sacrifice?" Damon bit back his anger and spoke with forced control. "My mother died without him. Alone."

"But she wasn't alone. She had you with her. And now you are not alone. I'm here. And I can help you prepare her for her journey to the otherworld. Just tell me what to do."

Damon slammed his open palms onto the edge of the stone seat, skinning the heels of his hands. "We have to cut her open, from her neck to her navel. Then hollow her out like a gourd. Do you think you can help me do that? Do you?"

Artemas went pale. Damon felt sorry that he had pushed Artemas, exposing his weakness. Artemas was only trying to help. Damon was angry at his father, not at Artemas. Why wasn't his father here? Why did Damon always have to be responsible? Just once, he wished he could let someone else take charge.

Artemas sat beside him and spoke evenly, as if he were trying to reason with a young child. "What was your, mother is gone. Her ba has left. What remains is only flesh and bone. You must prepare the body for her ka's return in the afterworld. That was her belief. Don't think beyond that."

Damon rubbed his temples. "You're right. I'm sorry. I should be thinking of her." Damon squeezed Artemas's shoulder. "You're a good friend." Damon noticed that Artemas's face was still as colorless as the desert midday. "Put your head between your knees until the dizziness passes."

Artemas sat with his head low.

Now Damon paced. Artemas was right. He
do it. Herodotus had written in detail about embalming. It wasn't that difficult. The materials would be easy to get. It could be done. Damon felt his energy surging. He could help her now.

Artemas lifted his head. "You're going to do it, aren't you?"

Damon nodded.

"How will you know what to do?"

"Herodotus has written about the process." Behind Artemas the gate hung awkwardly. What had he done? This wasn't like him. Artemas was the one who smashed things. Damon shook his head. "Here, give me a hand."

"I know of Herodotus. He was a Greek But what does a historian know about cutting up a body?" Artemas leaned into the heavy iron gate with his shoulder, preparing to lift it back into place.

"Maybe not the cutting so much, but how to prepare the organs and the flesh." Damon saw Artemas pale again. "Now, don't faint on me. This gate would probably crush both of us." Damon helped Artemas raise the heavy gate. The hinge pin wavered over the opening in the wall.

Artemas steadied the gate. "Herodotus wrote more than four hundred years ago. There have to be more modern methods." The pin dropped to the left of the hole. They lifted the gate again.

"A moment ago you were the one trying to talk me into this." Damon grunted. His arms ached.

"I just thought there would be some new way..."

"Mummification hasn't changed—umph, hold it still, will you?—all that much in thousands of years." The pin dropped into place. Damon shook his arms by his sides. The ache receded. "We'll need cedar oil, beeswax, juniper berries, and natron—lots of natron. The rest I'll have to look up." Damon brushed away bits of sand and crumbled mortar from his shoulder. "Oh, and palm wine to wash the intestines." Artemas paled again. He sat and put his head back between his legs.

Damon left the courtyard, clapping the dust from his hands. He returned cradling four vases. "When she knew her time was near, she chose the coffins for the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines. The inscriptions are beautiful."

Damon knew that Artemas did not understand the hieroglyphs carved into the alabaster, but the head of Anubis, protector of the dead, would be familiar.

"How can you tell one from the other?" Artemas asked.

"One what?"

Artemas swallowed hard. "Organ."

"I've taken anatomy at the Museum. Since Herophilis, there have been many studies. It is quite clear, actually." Damon placed the vases on the bench.

"Then the things I have heard of those studies are true?"

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