This was a turn up for the scrolls, thought Khalid to himself as the memories of his murder flashed through his mind. It wasn’t too surprising he supposed, but of all possibilities, to be killed by a lowly slave was shameful. His death would serve no political gain or transfer of wealth. His only solace was that the slave was certain to be executed in a most horrific manner.
It took awhile for Khalid to turn his thoughts to his surroundings. The first thing his noticed was how inhuman his senses were. He could sense, for example, that he was in a room and could feel the textures of the limestone walls and the alabaster floor, but in both cases he was neither seeing or touching them.
The more thought he put into this oddity the more a familiar kind of sensing returned to him. Blurry and colourless at first, his sight gradually developed and focused on the objects around him.
As he had already sensed he was in a room. It appeared to be an embalmer’s workshop. An array of tools used in the preparation of the dead were stored on the shelves and surfaces. He could see pots of embalming fluids and sharp implements used to pierce the skin and remove organs. Jars of salt, sand and sawdust were stored in the corner of the room and a neat roll of linen wrappings in another. The centre of the room was dominated by a large, stone altar on top of which rested his body.
A ring of bruises around his neck remained as evidence of where the slave had suddenly lashed out and attempted to strangle him. Khalid had wrestled the slave off and tossed him to the floor, unfortunately the slave had grabbed a knife and charged back at him. Five stab wounds, most on his stomach, with one on his arm where he had tried to defend himself. The marks of his murder no longer looked life threatening, though they had cost Khalid his, as they had been cleaned and stitched.
Three men were attending to his funerary rites. One, known as the cutter, was making an incision into the left side of his body with a dagger made of obsidian. The second man, the scribe, was supervising him and began to direct the cutter towards removing Khalid’s innards.
The third man was the embalmer, the priest that led the ritual. He wore a black jackal mask in honour of the god Anubis. Gold had been painted around the eyes and used to detail the ears and mouth of the mask. He was concentrating on casting a protective spell over an ankh, a cross with a loop in the top that signified eternal life.
The smell of blood and viscera was beginning to permeate throughout the room but fortunately the cutter had nearly finished his work. The scribe retrieved a chest, made from alabaster like the floor. Inside were the four canopic jars with carved lids into which Khalid’s organs would be stored, soaked in salt.
First his liver was placed inside a jar with a male human head as the lid. Then his lungs were carefully extracted and placed into a jar with the face of a baboon. His stomach and his intestines were pulled out through the incision in his body and stored in jars with a jackal head and a hawk head respectively.
The scribe placed the chest of canopic jars at the feet of Khalid’s body whilst the embalmer advanced upon his head. He inserted a small, metal hook up Khalid’s nostril and began forcefully and with a surprising level of violence to scrape out the brain.
Khalid was possessed of a strong stomach, or at least had been, and knew the necessity of the embalming process to ensure he would be correctly reborn in the afterlife. Even so, he had to direct his vision away from this part of the ritual.
Next his body and cavities were cleaned, washed with spiced palm wine by the scribe and the cutter, and rinsed with water. They then covered his body completely in salt and left the workshop. The embalmer spoke a few more ritual words before leaving himself.
It was many days before the men returned. It had not occurred to Khalid to leave or indeed try any kind of movement, he merely existed in the meantime, almost unaware of his own existence. The passage of time did not affect him, the wait feeling somewhat like passing in and out of a dream.
Immediately the cutter and the scribe set about removing the salt and washing the body once more. Khalid caught sight of his shrunken visage and prayed to himself that the embalmers would rectify the damage to his looks.
The embalmer with the jackal mask had returned carrying a piece of obsidian shaped as a scarab with golden wings fixed to it. He set about casting a spell of warding over it so that it would protect Khalid’s heart in the afterlife.
Once clean his body was rubbed with oils which returned some of the skin’s elasticity. The cutter stuffed the body, through the incision, with sawdust and sand while the scribe massaged the skin to fill out the shape.
Khalid appraised their work and was pleased, relatively. Sure he was unmistakably dead, he thought, but for a dead man he looked pretty good. The stuffing had plumped up his features and the oils helped to disguise the dryness of his skin. He’d seen more ugly people, certainly and would still stand head and shoulders above a beaten slave.
It was finally time for the men to wrap his body. They took long strips of linen and wound them around each limb first, and then the torso. After the first layer had been completed the embalmer approached and placed the protective scarab above Khalid’s heart. His body was then wrapped with a second and a third layer. Each layer was coated with a resin to glue the linen strips in place.
The ankh, which had been previously blessed, was placed on a chain and looped over the neck of his body. Finally a papyrus scroll was placed between his hands over his torso. The scroll should contain details and instructions on his forthcoming journey through the underworld, though Khalid had no idea how he’d read it in his current state.
The jackal-masked embalmer began the opening of the mouth ceremony. He spoke the ritual words and pressed his fingers to the bandages that covered Khalid’s mouth. As the embalmer did so Khalid was sure he felt the touch.
“What was that?” He said, then became aware that he had spoken. The three men did not react though and the ceremony continued. The embalmer chanted more of the ritual and walked around the body laying a hand on each limb. As he did so Khalid felt the touch and remembered that he possessed each limb, first an arm, then his leg, his other leg and finally the second arm.
He was stood beside the altar on which his bandaged body lay, but looking down at himself he could see his arms and legs and chest. They weren’t bandaged, nor were there any of the stab wounds from his killing. He was however, not quite all there. His body was ethereal, partially see through and constantly needed to be reminded that a floor was to be stood on and not sunk through.
With the ceremony complete the three men left and Khalid was alone once more. They would no doubt be seeing to the preparations of his coffin he thought. It would be a plain box. Khalid’s wealth would have been enough to afford the mummification, but he would not be privileged to all the excesses available to those who entered the afterlife. Indeed the scarab and the ankh appeared to be the only protective amulets he had been able to afford. Still, a coffin of any kind signified that he was a man of importance.
The room was beginning to feel constricting and Khalid was eager to begin his afterlife. A short exploration around the room and by the entrance the embalmers had used soon revealed he could not leave. Not because he was unable to open the door, he did not even make it that far. He suspected he was bound to his body, as he was drawn back to it constantly. The further he travelled away from it, mere metres to the door in fact, the weaker he felt. He almost got to the door before collapsing and feeling his spiritual body drift casually back to his physical body.
He was beginning to feel panicked when, with a scratching and scuffling noise the door slid ajar. A wet, black nose squeezed into the gap and a paw pulled at the door. Once it was half open the animal walked in.
It was a jackal, a scavenging creature that feasted on smaller, weaker animals and carcasses. This one was different however, with sleek black fur instead of the golden jackals Khalid was used to seeing. It stopped and stared at him with stern, unblinking, yellow eyes.
It made Khalid uncomfortable but as he returned the stare he realised he was tilting his head upwards to keep the jackal’s gaze. It was growing and when Khalid glanced down at its body he saw that it had been replaced with that of a man. Like the jackal the man’s body was lean, suited to feats of speed more than strength. He was much taller than Khalid too, with an imposing and confident presence. The head remained the same though and Khalid soon realised he was gazing upon the god Anubis.
Anubis walked forward in the room until he was stood watching over Khalid’s physical body. The god never broke his gaze on Khalid and reaching forward plunged a hand into the body. The god’s hand passed through the mummy wrappings like air and when it reappeared, without damage to either the hand or the body, it was holding a lifeless, dry heart.
Clinging to the heart was the winged scarab figurine. It crawled across the heart and tried to bite Anubis’s hand until a single sharp bark from the god returned it to its previous inanimate state.
Anubis’s lips curled around his incisors. “Come,” the god commanded. He gestured for Khalid to follow him and walked to the other end of the room away from the door. Khalid was confused at first then saw a second door he had not noticed before. On it were hieroglyphics that read ‘By Ma’at. In Ma’at. For Ma’at’.
The door itself was a stone slab and as Anubis approached it, it slid upwards disappearing into the ceiling. Khalid followed the jackal-headed god into the chamber beyond.
“Welcome Khalid,” spoke a female voice, soft yet stern. The room beyond was very large and crafted of high quality white limestone like that used by the Pharaoh. A single incredibly long bench curved across the back of the room such that the forty-two men and women who were seated behind it were all facing Khalid.
Dominating the centre of the room was a pair of golden scales as tall as a man. The scales were comprised of a large pair of circular balancing plates hung on fine chains.
On one side of the scales sat the fearsome beast Ammit. It had the powerful hindquarters of a hippopotamus with tough skin giving way to orange fur that covered the strong lion’s paws of its front half. Its claws dug deeply into the alabaster floor and its head was that of a crocodile with eager eyes hiding amid a sea of dark green scales. A long, tooth laden snout turned toward Khalid disconcertingly.
Behind the scales on a raised dais was, seated in an adorned chair, a beautiful woman. She was dressed finely and her features were outlined with make-up. She held in her left hand a long sceptre and in her headdress sat a single, slender ostrich feather. This was Ma’at.
Beside her sat the body of a man, but like Anubis this god had the head of an animal. A long white, feathered neck protruded from his shoulders and ended in a black head and a long, curved black beak. Khalid recognised him as Thoth. In his lap was a long length of blank papyrus and in his hand poised a quill.
“You stand at the gates of Duat,” said Ma’at, giving a formal introduction to the underworld. The goddess rose from her seat and with her free hand plucked the feather from her headdress. She approached the scales and placed her feather upon one disk. The feather stood perfectly upright and very gently and gradually the scales slid downwards.
The goddess returned to her seat moving with grace. “You shall be tried for the purity of your life. If you are found to have led an evil and selfish existance then your soul shall be devoured by Ammit and you shall die the second death.”
The crocodile headed beast gave a loud croak at the prospect of feeding and left Khalid more than a little nervous for his soul.
Ma’at nodded towards Anubis and the jackal headed god approached the scales. He placed Khalid’s heart on the opposing disk and stepped away. The scarab woke and scurried over the heart as though checking its territory before settling back down again. Tension gripped Khalid as he waited to see if the scales moved and would have suffocated him had he not already died. A few year long seconds passed and the scales did not move.
“I pass!” Khalid cried out, almost disbelieving it himself and looking around for confirmation. The assembled deities ignored him.
“Let the trial begin,” said Ma’at.
Khalid cursed himself for his impetuousness and he felt fear welling up inside him. He had been no saint, and his crimes were, he had to confess, quite numerous. But he did not deserve to die the second death. His immortal soul was not evil, it just lacked that weakness known as altruism.
At the far left of the back bench one of the forty-two judges rose to his feet.
“Have you ever committed a sin?” The judge asked. The room waited expectantly. The right answer was no, thought Khalid to himself. But surely everyone had sinned, it couldn’t be that great a crime to have sinned once or twice in your life, maybe more…
“I have,” said Khalid, his voice wavering. He dared not take his eyes away from his heart. The scales shifted the tiniest, almost imperceptible, amount. He sighed with relief, his heart hung in the air still higher than Ma’at’s feather. Thoth put quill to papyrus and recorded the result.
The first judge sat down as the next judge along rose to her feet.
“Have you ever harmed others for material possessions?” She asked.
“No,” said Khalid immediately, confident that this was the correct answer to give. The scales tipped significantly this time. The surprisingly sudden motion caused Khalid to shout his confession, “Stop! I have!” The scales ceased their descent, though still above the feather the difference in height was much smaller. Thoth tutted as he recorded the result.
The third judge rose, “Have you ever stolen of another?”
The eyes turned to Khalid and he meekly replied, “Yes.” The scales dipped closer to the waiting jaws of Ammit.
This process continued for every one of the forty-two judges, scared to lie Khalid answered every one truthfully.
“Have you been gluttonous?”
“Have you lied?”
“Have you defiled sacred ground?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” Said Khalid, again and again. His voice growing weaker and more shamed with each answer.
“Have you committed adultery?”
“Have you cursed others?”
“Have you self-pitied?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.”
It was not long before his heart passed by the feather and sank lower and lower. Ammit’s eyes gleamed and looking at the fearsome beast brought the reality of the situation to Khalid’s mind.
“Have you assaulted another?”
“Have you exhibited wroth?”
“Have you lain with the wife of another?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.”
Each answer Thoth scribbled on the papyrus, sometimes he would tut with a click of his beak but mostly he sat in silence.
“Have you slain another?”
“Have you acted in greed?”
“Have you incited others?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.”
The last of the forty-two judges sat down. Ammit was sniffing around the heart, whose platform now sat firmly on the floor, with the scarab valiantly nipping at the beast whenever it got too close.
Ma’at rose to her feet and reaching up retrieved her feather. She repositioned it in her headdress and looked deploringly at the fallen heart.
“A verdict has been reached.” She announced.
“No! Please! Spare me!” Cried Khalid.
“Quiet!” Howled Anubis.
“You have been seen to have led a wicked and evil life.” Said Ma’at. “You have not lived with justice and truth in your heart.” Every denouncement uttered by the goddess was recorded by Thoth. “Wicked souls are sentenced to die the second death by having their heart devoured by Ammit. The soul remains restless and tormented for eternity after this.”
Khalid collapsed to the floor and wept. The news made worse by the matter of fact way in which Ma’at delivered her sentence. His hardened soul was drenched in tears.
“We do not give mercy,” announced Ma’at. “However.”
The entire gathering watched Ma’at intently. Khalid could tell this was unusual. Hope leapt up within him and his whimpering reduced.
“Tell me, are you capable of redemption?”
“Yes! Oh, yes my mistress,” cried out Khalid between sobs. He prostrated himself on the floor before the gathering. “I’ll do anything you ask of me.”
“What do you think my husband?” Ma’at turned towards Thoth. The bird-headed god was silent for a long time. The quiet broken only by the occasional, restrained sob of Khalid’s. His long neck turned to Khalid who desperately tried to look honest and sincere under the watchful eyes.
Finally Thoth spoke, “I do not prescribe that the man will pursue or even attain redemption. However, I am curious to see in what ways such an event may develop.”
“Very well. Khalid,” she turned to the sinful spirit. “We grant you a rebirth. Your crimes are numerous and your compassion meagre. You will not have the access to the afterlife you yearn for. You will be reborn into the world of the mortals and are to seek out redemption. Do not think you are escaping punishment. You shall suffer every minute of every day until you atone for all of your sins, and learn what it is to live with truth and justice in your heart. Then, and only then, will you be able to return here. It is a long and difficult journey ahead of you.”
Silence descended. Ma’at returned to her seat. Anubis approached the scales and to Ammit’s annoyance plucked the heart and scarab from the scales. The god left the room. Khalid followed momentarily, fearful of further recrimination.
Back in the embalmer’s workshop Anubis approached Khalid’s physical body. The jackal ears perked up as Khalid followed and the god turned proffering the lifeless heart.
Khalid reached out uncertainly to take the heart. As soon as his spirit touched it he felt his sense of self dissolve and return to the formlessness he had been in immediately following his death. He was tied to his heart and sensed Anubis plunge him back inside his mummified body.
He started suddenly, thrashing as best he could against the constraining wrappings. His mouth was covered and he desperately tried to gasp air. Khalid tumbled from the stone altar and crashed to the floor. Calming himself he managed to use his bandaged limbs to stand up.
Blindly searching the shelves of the room he finally stumbled across the obsidian blade that had been used to make an incision in his body. Rubbing his hands against the sharp blade he slowly cut thought the bandages and separated his fingers.
With the ability to grip once more his, he grabbed the handle of the knife and sliced a mouth hole in his wrappings. He breathed in deeply, and fruitlessly. His lungs, he remembered, were stored in a canopic jar. Despite this he continued his imitation breathing as he found the action soothed him.
He cut two more holes in his bandages to reveal his eyes, careful not to damage them but aware they, like the rest of his body, were dead. To his relief and surprise the eyes appeared to work and he could see.
Anubis was gone. Khalid was alone inside his mummified remains inside the workshop. The scroll of the dead that had been presented to his body to guide him through the underworld lay on the floor where it had presumably tumbled when he had awoken.
It would serve him no purpose now he decided and tucked the obsidian knife into the folds of his bandages as he made for the door. He hesitated and with a second thought grabbed the chest with the four canopic jars that contained his organs before leaving the embalmer’s workshop.