Thais arrives to Egypt, expecting ancient mystery and knowledge, and finding something different altogether.
The gallery of water and greenery that was Egypt, stretched between two flaming deserts for tens of thousands of stadiums – a colossal distance compared to the small Hellenic states. It was all gardens and temples, temples and gardens, fields near water, and endless necropoli along the outside edge of this band of life – cities of the dead with countless tombs. There were no tombstones here, but homes for the departed instead: they were the size of a regular house for the wealthy and important citizens; and the size of a dog house for the poor and the slaves. Three royal tombs were utterly striking – the pyramids with their titanic Sphinx, seventy stadiums down from Memphis. Thais have heard much about the pharaohs’ tombs but could have never imagined their true magnitude.
They were geometrically perfect mountains, dressed in mirror-smooth stone tiles, set together so tightly that seams between the stones were barely noticeable. During the morning hours each of the large pyramids reflected a vertical pillar of rose-colored light into the gray sky. As the sun rose, the mirror sides of the stone giants burned brighter, until each pyramid turned into a star – a focus of four blinding streams of light, stretched to the four points of the world across the desert. At sunset broad columns of red fire stood above the tombs of the pharaohs, piercing the purple evening sky. The outlines of the god-kings of the Black Earth (as Egyptians called their country) burned like sharp fiery blades below. These incomparable structures seemed to be the work of titans, although knowledgeable people assured Thais that the pyramids were built by common slaves.
“If a man is frequently and severely beaten,” – a priest from Heliopolis told her, grinning cynically, “he will do anything that might seem incomprehensible to his descendants.”
“These are the largest structures in Egypt – that means that people here were beaten harder than anywhere else,” – Thais said menacingly.
“Why do you open this knowledge to me, father? How can I – a servant of Aphrodite – help you?”
“You serve Eros, and there is no mightier force in our Hellenic world. Meetings, conversations, secret exchanges are in your power. You are intelligent, strong, curious and dream of spiritual enlightenment...”
“How do you know that, father?”
“Much is open to me in the hearts of people. And I think you will soon follow Alexander to the east, into the vast expanses of the Asian plain. Every intelligent woman is a poet in her heart. You are not a philosopher, or a historian, or an artist – each of them is blinded with his own purpose. And you are not a woman-warrior, for all you have from an Amazon – is the art of horseback riding and courage. You are not a killer by your nature. That is why you are more free than any other person in Alexander's army, and I choose you to be my eyes. You shall see that, which I never will. Near death awaits me.”
“Then how will I tell you?”
“Not me. The others. Intelligent, important people will always be near you – poets, artists – because they will be attracted by your essence. And it will be even better, than if I could tell them. It will remain in the memory of people, become a part of the poets' songs and the writings of historians, will spread through Ecumene in legends and reach those who need to know.”
“I am afraid you are making a mistake, father. I am not the one you need. I am not wise, I am ignorant, Eros turns my head, as do dance, song, admiration of men, envy of women and a fast ride.”
“Those are only transitional signs of your power. I shall initiate you, teach you the inner meaning of things, and free you from fear.”
“What must I do?”
“Tomorrow, come in the evening, dressed in a new linostolia, accompanied by the one I send and wait on the steps, until Nictur, the Guardian of Heaven, is reflected in the waters of the Nile. Arrange your affairs so that you could be absent for nine days.”