Eye of the Moon

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2011-06-07
  • Publisher: Aladdin
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Isikara and her father tend the sacred crocodiles and assist at mummifications of both humans and animals. One day, they are ordered to a tomb. Two bodies are waiting for them--Queen Tiy and her eldest son, Tuthmosis. Tuthmosis has been poisoned but is clinging to life. With no time to spare, Isikara rescues the young prince and runs away with him. The pair find themselves on a journey across Egypt, searching for allies who will help Tuthmosis regain his throne. Their travels lead them along the Nile, across the desert, and through bustling market towns. All the while they must avoid their pursuers, the High Priests who wish to silence them. But there are dangers in the desert and all around. Who can they trust? And where will their adventure lead them? In this gripping tale, published for the first time in the U.S., author Dianne Hofmeyr spins a web of intrigue, mystery and adventure, woven throughout with fascinating historical details about Ancient Egypt.



My story begins in the Temple of Sobek in Thebes on the day I thought my brother would die.

There was a moment of absolute stillness. Then my brother’s scream. I can still hear it. The worst scream I’ve ever heard.

I ran down the path to the crocodile pit. He clung to the edge of the stone wall.

“The stick, Kara! Get the stick!” Katep bellowed.

His eyes were glazed with terror. A crocodile held his arm and was wrenching and tossing its head in a fury. Inside the pit, the other crocodiles were thrashing and snapping in their eagerness to get at my brother as well.

I searched frantically. The forked crocodile stick that usually stood next to the wall wasn’t there. Nothing was in its place. I had no weapon. Not even a branch to shove between the beast’s jaws or poke at its eyes.

I stood paralyzed. I knew how brutal crocodiles were. One thrust of its tail, one quick arch of its body, and it would throw Katep into the air and then catch him again in a stronger, more fatal grip.

Do something, Kara!”

I spun around frantically. Grabbed whatever I could. Sand and more sand. And flung it as hard as I could straight at the eyes of the reptile. Again and again, I sent a hailstorm of sand into the air.

Suddenly, with a wild, angry snort, the crocodile shook its head viciously. Then it lost its grip on my brother and sank back below the wall into the pit. Katep fell limply to the ground at my feet, blood streaming from an arm so torn that it no longer looked like an arm.

There was so much blood. I thought he would die. How could anyone live when there was so much blood everywhere?

But he didn’t die.

The crocodiles are kept in a pit at the temple for sacrifice. Katep was responsible for feeding and caring for them. My father makes sacred offerings of them to appease Sobek. At certain times of the moon the crocodiles are ritually washed, and then one is chosen, killed, and embalmed as an offering.

Katep’s work is to look after the crocodiles. My work is to help my father with embalming. To mix the resins and prepare the linen mummy wraps. Crocodiles are cumbersome and difficult to wrap. The bindings have to cross over one another and make a woven pattern. Afterward eyes and teeth are painted on the mummy.

That’s the part I enjoy most—painting the ferocious eyes and terrible teeth. But I can never manage to make them as frightening in death as they are in real life.

The mummified crocodiles are placed in special sacred vaults below the temple to keep Sobek company. Row upon row of them, they line up on the stone shelves like so many loaves of bread. Food for the gods.

Since Katep’s accident, the job of caring for the crocodiles has fallen to me.

Katep’s wound has healed to an angry stump, but the healing of his heart has taken longer. He’s restless. The accident has left him silent and resentful, with a smoldering anger. You see, Katep is a hunter . . . was a hunter. He can . . . could bring down any wildfowl with the flick of his throw-stick and stop any hare in midspring with his arrow.

But no more. The loss of an arm is a terrible misfortune, especially for a hunter like Katep. Without being able to hunt, Katep is no longer Katep.

“I’m leaving!” he announces one morning.


He shrugs impatiently. “I have no place here. Everything I do requires the skill of both hands. I feel trapped. I have to go.”

I stare back at him. He knows that I know he is looking for the impossible. “Where will you go?”

“I’m not sure.”


He shrugs again. It seems his shoulders have forgotten there is only one arm to move. “To the camel dealers’ camps in the desert. Or to find gold and amethysts in Nubia. Or to the turquoise workings of Sinai.”

I eye him. He might as well have said he is leaving this earth and going into the Underworld. “So far?” is all I say.

His silence tells me he knows what I’m really saying: How will you manage anywhere with only the stump of an arm?

“I’ll never see you again,” I blurt out. “Nubia and Sinai are all far beyond Egypt’s borders. They’re our enemies!”

He gives me a fleeting smile. His face is handsome, despite his anger. “Egypt’s enemies, not mine, Kara!” Then he shakes his head. “I can’t stay here. I can’t be a priest or even a stonemason as Father wants me to be.”

I kick the sand with my bare foot. “Why not?” I ask, even though I understand his determination to leave. I know he will go—no matter how much I plead.

He brandishes the stump of his arm. Beats the air with it. “Have you heard of a stonemason cutting stone with something like this?”

The scars on the stump of his arm are still raw and red. Dreadful to look at. But at the same time fascinating. I know each scar as well as the moles on my own arms. I’ve cleaned them, smeared the wounds with unguents, and bound them daily, ever since that day I’d had to hold him down while my father injected the arm with scorpion venom to numb it and cut away the shreds of flesh before stitching the skin together.

Now the scars of the wounds make hieroglyphs across his flesh. The hieroglyphs tell their own story.

I know Katep cannot bear to look at them. It’s a burden for him to carry this stump around. No wonder he wants to run away. It’s not me or Father that he’s running from. It’s his arm.

I know this in my head but my heart makes me speak out differently.

“Don’t go! Please don’t go! I’m begging you. You can’t leave. You said we’d go away together one day. We made plans. Remember? In the fork of the mimosa tree the day we watched the crocodiles laying eggs in the sand.”

He gives me a look. “We were children then.”

I flick the side plaits of my wig back from my face and squint back at him. I feel like a chastised child. “Is that all your promise counts for?”

We had pricked our thumbs with mimosa thorns. I had put my thumb hard against his and mingled our blood. It was a sacred vow. There hadn’t been a need. Our blood is already bonded. We share the same thoughts. Between us there is a thread as fine and silvery as a spider’s web. Invisible but strong. It’s difficult to break.

“Half the boat belongs to me!” I snap. But he knows I’m really saying, Who will catch fish with me now? Or trap and roast frogs? Or dare me to walk along the wall of the crocodile pit?

He stares back at me. He has read my thoughts. “Promise not to walk on the crocodile wall.”

I pull a face at him. “Ha! You never bothered about anything dangerous before! You were the one who dared me to enter the tomb labyrinth the first time!”

“That was different. There were two of us. Don’t go into the tomb labyrinth alone, Isikara!”

Why is he calling me Isikara instead of Kara? Already I am no longer his sister.

I give him a hot look from between the strands of my hair. “Don’t leave me!”

“Then join me.”

I shake my head. “By the white feather of Truth, you know I can’t! I can’t break the vow I made our mother on her death pallet. I promised I’d care for Father. Be his temple assistant. Weave the linen. Help boil the resins for embalming. Look after his embalming tools.”

I kick the sand again and swallow hard, fighting my tears with anger. “Now I have to look after the crocodiles as well!”

“Don’t trust them even if they seem asleep.”

“I don’t need your advice!” I squint through the sunlight at him, daring him to change his mind.

“Kara, don’t be so cross.”

Good. He has called me Kara. I’m his sister again.

For a moment he forgets his own anger and grabs me around the neck with his good arm. I sense the other arm wanting to hug me as well. But the stump waves about without direction. He puts on a deep, fierce voice. “Be careful! I am Sobek! I seize like a beast!”

“Stop it! Don’t mock Sobek!” I push him away. My hand flies to the moonstone amulet at my neck. Quickly I draw the Eye of Horus in the sand with my big toe to ward off the evil eye and keep Katep protected.

On the morning he sails, I hand him a small linen bag to hang around his neck. Inside are the bodies of a dried lizard and a frog, as well as a lock of our mother’s hair, to keep him safe. I give him a sack of pomegranates and some shelled beans and two loaves with some potted meat of wildfowl. I’d killed the bird myself with my throw-stick to prove that I could manage without my brother.

I hold out a small amulet of blue glass that I’d bartered for at the market. “It’s the scorpion goddess, Seqet—to help ward off evil. Watch out for scorpions under the rocks of Sinai.”

He laughs. “In Sinai, men are specially employed as scorpion charmers.”

Something jabs at my heart as sharp as a scorpion’s sting. He hasn’t left yet, but already he knows things I don’t know. I eye him. “What if their charms don’t work?”

“Stop worrying! The scorpion goddess, Seqet, will protect me.”

“Then remember to touch her stone.” I thrust the blue amulet at him.

He sails down the silver ribbon of water that joins the Great River. I race along the mud bank trying to keep up with his boat. I will that the burden of my running might drag him back like an anchor to the shore. But no . . . his boat travels lightly forward and my feet remain stuck to the bank.

“I’ll never see you again!” I call after him, and murmur a quick silent prayer to Hathor to beg that it won’t be true.

“Of course you will.”

I call out instructions. Anything to hold him back. “Send me signs that you are safe. Say incantations to keep the crocodiles and hippopotamuses away from the boat. Have you remembered your spear and your throw-stick?”

To all this he nods and smiles back at me.

“And beware of crocodiles. If the boat lodges in reeds, don’t climb out into the water. Even if it is only up to your ankles!”

He laughs. “Must I remain in the boat for the rest of my life?”

“Just be careful, Katep!”

“Don’t worry, I won’t be caught again. I’ve given Sobek my arm as an offering.” He grins. Then he tucks the sail rope under his chin so he can raise his left arm in a salute. He gives me his last look. Then he turns his back and begins paddling with his one good arm.

When I can’t keep up with him any longer, I stand and watch his reed boat beat against the wind and the choppy waves. I touch the smooth, cool moonstone of Hathor once more and feel for the knots on my plaited reed bracelet. I call upon all that is evil to remain tied up and out of his reach.

I watch his back and the sail grow smaller and smaller until they are nothing but a moth skimming across the water to an unknown place. I blink and narrow my eyes against the breeze to prevent moisture from being squeezed out of them. A lump rises up in my throat like a bloated, angry toad.

With that sail goes my heart. I never thought Katep would take the boat and leave without me. I stare after him and wish with all my heart that my own life will change. But wishing is dangerous. Wishes have a way of coming back to you.

It’s said that those who sail the Great River either look forward or look back. That morning when Katep left, he didn’t look back. He stood stiff-backed to the world he had left behind. I’d stared after him, willing him to turn around.

But he didn’t! Not once!

The next morning I dragged a slaughtered goat by its horns to the crocodile pit and cursed Katep for leaving me to do his work.

It was a she-goat. I could see by the swollen udder. The goat’s kid would be searching among the other goats now, nosing for the full udder of its mother. But my father believed in sacrificing only she-goats to the crocodiles. Male goats were too precious, he said. They carried the seed of the future herd.

What about she-goats? Weren’t they the true future of the herd? But my father was impatient with me. Katep’s leaving made him more impatient than usual.

The goat was limp and heavy. My father had slit her throat. Flies were already buzzing around the gash. The track left in the sand by her dragging hooves was spattered with drops of blood that glistened like garnets.

I was glad she was already dead. Offerings are usually made alive. But I had begged my father to kill the goat first so I wouldn’t have to listen to her bleating.

The nearer I got to the pit, the tighter I clutched the forked stick.

The crocodiles were moving restlessly. They could sense the scent of the she-goat’s blood and the warm, sweet smell of her milk. There were the sounds of jaws snapping and angry hisses as they lashed at one another.

“Be careful of their tails!” Katep had warned.

I didn’t need his reminder.

My father had been distraught the morning he’d discovered Katep’s empty bed. “Why did he leave without bidding farewell? There was no need for him to go. He could have learned the art of embalming from me.”

I gave my father a dark look. “Am I not your helper? Is my work not good enough? Katep was never interested in learning to embalm. Besides, it’s not his fault he had to leave. It’s the fault of a crocodile!”

“Hush! Hold your tongue! To be eaten by the most sacred crocodile, Sobek, is the greatest honor.”

“I’d rather die without honor.”

He shook his head. “Kara! Kara! You’re too headstrong. It’ll get you into trouble yet. You need a mother to groom you in the ways of women. You must learn to think before you speak.”



I understood my father’s anger and hurt. We both missed Katep more than we could say. The house was quieter with him gone. Our meals were taken in silence opposite his empty place. The day Katep left, my father inscribed these words above the arch that led to the crocodile pit:

To be devoured by the crocodile god, Sobek, is to be possessed forever by divinity.

Now, as I passed under those words, shivery bumps came up on my arms. They weren’t a comfort. I had no desire to be eaten by a crocodile.

I stood ready to heave the goat into the pit when I suddenly realized that when Katep had left, he’d snapped the thread between us—the thread that I thought could never be broken.


Thebes is the color of chalk—a mixture of sand swirling up from the desert and dust billowing down from the ancient limestone mountains. It sifts down over the city like fine bread flour. And this morning hordes of people with handcarts and donkeys pushing their way through the narrow streets were kicking up even more dust than usual.

I felt a shiver of excitement. This was going to be the best market ever. Traders were coming from faroff Syria with exotic oils, woven cloths, spices, and nuggets of precious stone as large as duck eggs.

It didn’t help that there was no ferryman waiting on the west bank of the Great River. The crowd was restless. Children squalled and mothers scolded. I pulled the rough cloak around my head and hoped no one would recognize me.

When a boat finally came, the crush was so great that an old woman fell from the quayside and disappeared under the water.

“She’s not coming up! Quickly, do something!”

“Perhaps a crocodile’s got her!”

“Oi! You! If a crocodile’s got her, you won’t be coming back either,” someone shouted as a boy teetered on the edge of the ferry, ready to jump in after her.

He dived all the same and came up dragging the woman. They were hauled back onto the ferry. People laughed and teased as they picked off strands of water-weed from the old woman’s hair and tunic.

All this took time. Eventually on the east bank, I was carried along by a surge of people like a bit of debris swept down by the flood. Men, women, large and small, old and young, all mingled with loud shrieks and yelps as carts were overturned, a child fell, and a dog was trodden underfoot. In the midst of this some geese escaped their cages and were honking and hissing and snapping at passing feet.

A pestilence of flies! My tunic hem was dragging in the dirt, and through some fresh donkey droppings as well.

There was a loud curse behind me. “Oi! Mind where you’re going, stupid girl!”

I had barely time to save myself from falling under the wheels of a handcart piled high with onions and leeks, when someone held out a hand to steady me.

“Watch out! They’ll flatten you as quickly as oxen trampling through barley,” he shouted over the noise of the geese. “Come to the side of the road. You’re limping.”

I glanced at the boy as he examined my foot. He looked familiar.

“Your sandals are ridiculous with those upturned tips! No wonder you tripped! You need strong leather sandals on market day!” He pressed around my ankle.

“Ouch! That hurt!” I snapped at him.

“It’s only twisted. But it needs to be bound.”

I pulled away and tried to stand. “I’m fine, thank you!”

“You’re not! Sit down. I’ll bind it for you.”

I looked back at him. Smooth, freshly shaved cheeks. No formal wig. His hair falling in damp tendrils against his neck. “Aren’t you the boy who saved the old woman?”

He shrugged. “Saving old women or princesses, it’s all the same to me!”


He raised a dark eyebrow and grinned at me. “Your rough cloak doesn’t fool me. I can see by your fine linen tunic you’re no country girl come to town on market day. You don’t belong here, do you?”

I glanced quickly over my shoulder in case anyone had overheard.

“Don’t look so dismayed. Your secret won’t be told. It’s safe with me.”

“I’m . . .” I left off and brushed his hand from my foot, eager to get away. He jumped up just as abruptly and pulled me against his chest.

“Huh?” I gave him a sharp jab with my elbow. “What do you think you’re doing? Let go of me!”

“I will, as soon as that donkey has passed. You almost got yourself knocked down again. Now sit calmly while I bandage your foot.” He grinned at me. “I know what I’m doing. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. Trust me.”

He drew a dagger from his girdle, stuck its point into the linen of his tunic, and deftly tore a strip from the hem. Then he removed my sandal and began winding the strip firmly under my foot and around my ankle. I eyed him as he worked. His hands were quick and seemed practiced at bandaging. His forearms were crisscrossed with pale scars, and the fingers of his right hand looked as if they’d once been badly broken. He was about the age of my brother. About fifteen or sixteen.

He glanced up and caught my look.

I felt my face grow hot.

He smiled with perfect even teeth. “You’re not from Thebes, are you?”

“How do you know?”

“The stupid upturned sandals. The braided style of your wig. Are you Syrian?”

I shook my head.

“Perhaps from Tyre, or Byblos, or even Kadesh. You’re not Nubian.”

I shook my head again.

“From where, then?”

“What’s it to you? You ask too many questions.”

He laughed, released my foot, and stood up quickly. “There. The way is clear now.” He bowed slightly as if giving me permission to leave.

“Clear?” I turned to look at the people brushing past us, almost wishing another trail of donkeys could delay me. “I’m from Mitanni. The people here call it Naharin. But I prefer its real name.”

“From Naharin?”


He inclined his head and smiled. “So you are a princess! A princess sent from Mitanni to Thebes as a gift to the king.”

“I’m not a princess!”

“But you are from the palace?”

I glanced sharply at him. “What makes you say that?”

“Why else are you wearing a peasant’s wrap over a fine linen tunic? You’ve sneaked out and you don’t want anyone to recognize you. But mysterious girls with cat tattoos are easy to recognize.”

“Cat tattoos?” I snatched at my cloak. I’d forgotten the tattoo on my shoulder. A blush crept up my neck. This boy was a flirt. Yet even though I knew he was flirting, I was still charmed.

“I have to hurry,” I said quickly.

“Go, then, Little Cat Girl.”

“That’s not my proper name.”

He smiled and held my eyes. “Beware of carts and donkeys!”

And boys with dark, flirting eyes, I almost blurted out. But he turned before I could say anything and slipped into the crowd and disappeared.

My sandals were nowhere to be seen. Standing barefoot in the dust, I really did feel like a proper country girl. A pestilence of flies! I’d have to walk barefoot through the muck, and my ankle would slow me down. The sun was stinging hot. And now I was late. And Kiya would be impatient for her length of cloth.

“Fine linen, woven with gold thread, with tasseled edges and a pattern of turquoise beads caught into it—is what I want, Ta-Miu,” she’d said.

“How can you be sure I’ll find such cloth?”

“The traders are from Syria. Everything at the market will be wonderful.” She had sighed heavily. “I wish I could go with you.”

“You can’t, and that’s that! It’s too dangerous.”

“I promise to behave. Please, Ta-Miu, let me go.”

But all her flouncing and flopping about on her bed hadn’t convinced me. I couldn’t risk it. Kiya was too impulsive. She’d have drawn attention to us.

When she’d seen that nothing would make me change my mind, she’d pouted and said, “Bring wool cloth as well.”

“Wool? This isn’t the Khabur Mountains, Kiya. We don’t need wool here.”

“It’s not the wool I need but the comfort of it. I miss the feel of it beneath my fingers. Three years in Thebes haven’t cured me of longing for things that remind me of home.”

I had sighed. Sometimes Kiya—Princess Tadukhepa to others, but Kiya always to me—seemed such a child. How would she ever cope with her position as wife to the new king?

By the time I eventually reached the stalls, the market was seething with people. Over the stench of donkey droppings came aromas of sizzling goat meat and perfumed wafts of cinnamon, caraway, coriander, saffron, mint, thyme, and every other conceivable herb and spice. Hawks whirled overhead trying to snap up entrails, and were shooed off by angry stallholders. The hawks’ screeches added confusion to the sound of foreign tongues, donkeys braying, voices arguing over goods, and volleys of slaps and curses as tempers flew and the day grew more and more stifling.

I kept a lookout for the boy. But in the mass of people pushing me this way and that, all I could do was edge my way forward and curse myself for not asking his name. He had come close to guessing mine. Little Cat Girl, he’d called me.

In a city as large as Thebes, I’d probably never lay eyes on him again. Who was to say he was even Theban? He might’ve been passing through for market day and be gone by tomorrow and on his way to another place.

I came to a stall piled high with woven fabric and trimmings, and I rifled through them. When I saw a cloth that I thought would make Kiya happy, I bargained as hard as I could and shrugged off others who tried to grasp it from me. Eventually a small sachet of ten orange carnelians tipped into the trader’s hand did the trick. With the cloth firmly bundled under my arm, I shouldered my way through the crowds and came to a space where I could right my clothing and breathe freely again.

The cloth was woven with a pattern of fine red thread and was hung with tassels but had no beads of turquoise or gold. Not exactly what Kiya had asked for, but perhaps I could sew on some beads. I knew why she had to have something unusual and exotic for the banquet. This was the first proper gathering of all the royal wives since Nefertiti’s marriage to Amenhotep the Younger. Kiya, being the youngest of all his foreign wives, wanted to make an impression.

Suddenly someone grabbed me around the waist and held a hand over my mouth. There was a whisper at my ear. “It’s only me, Little Cat Girl!”

I spun around. “Are you following me?” I snapped.

“Only for your protection.”

“Well, don’t! I don’t need your protection! I’ve traveled across the deserts of Syria on my own.”

He smiled knowingly. “Not entirely on your own. You were accompanied by hordes of fierce horsemen as protectors.”

I looked over my shoulder. “You think you know everything. Keep your voice down!” I urged.

“In this hubbub no one will hear us. Here. These are yours.” He held up my sandals with a smile that seemed to mock the upturned toe. “I found them alongside the road. The market is thirsty work. I know a place where we can get something to drink. Come.”

He gripped my arm and guided me firmly down a tangle of narrow streets into a small alleyway. At the end of it I could see a glint of green as the river flowed by. An old man was sitting in a dark doorway. The boy handed him a bag of dates. In return the man poured out two horn cupfuls of pomegranate juice and pushed two honey cakes toward us.

The juice was bitter but cool. I was thirsty. The boy gulped his and was left with a pink mustache. It was difficult not to smile.

“I can’t stay long,” I said. “Tadukhepa is waiting.”


“Princess Tadukhepa . . . my mistress.” I wiped the crumbs of honey cake from my lips. “Although she’s three years younger than I.”

“The real princess!” His eyes glinted in the shadowy light. “So I was right! You traveled from Mitanni with a princess. You did have fierce horsemen as your protectors. The finest and most valiant of horsemen. The Mitannians are famous for the way they train horses. Even the Hittites are jealous of them. And now you live at the palace here in Thebes.”

“Are you asking or telling?”

“You don’t have to be secretive. I can keep secrets.”

“Perhaps another time. I must hurry now.”

“Meet me again. Here tomorrow at the same time?”

Hmm. No “please” or “will you” from this boy. I shrugged. “Perhaps.”

“Perhaps is good enough! Hurry, then, before you’re missed. You’ve a banquet to attend.”

I gave him a sharp glance. “How do you know?”

He smiled. “In Thebes it’s not only dust that fills the air.”

I took the less crowded route back to the river. Next to the new Southern Opet Temple a smell of myrrh drifted in the air. In the sunlight slanting through the columns, I caught sight of priests making offerings before the altars. They swung censers and mumbled incantations that echoed against the shining blocks of stone and newly carved papyrus-shaped columns.

Apart from the priests, there was no one. Not even the temple cleaning women, or the urchin boys who usually hung about pelting one another with pebbles and pestering people for a loaf of bread.

I hurried as quickly as my ankle would allow down the avenue of sphinxes that guarded the east and the west horizons between the Southern Opet Temple and the Temple of Amun. Along the way I stopped to touch the seventeenth lioness facing east. She was the one I always touched, the one with the strange expression that made her look wiser than the rest. Her body was warm under my hand, as if power were trapped in her stone lion muscles.

“So . . . what do you think about this boy?” I asked.

Her expression remained as wise as ever.

Then I hurried on down the long avenue. And as I passed through the shadows cast by the lions, with bands of sunlight between them, I felt I was zithering across the strings of a giant lyre. An inaudible vibration seemed to float upward. My feet were as light as air. My heart sang.

© 2007 Dianne Hofmeyr

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