THE SERVANT OF HATSHEPSUT

Chapter Three

Nefer led them to the house and the first thing Rose noticed was that the interior was painted in bright and vibrant colors. There were stylized lotus blossoms around the tops of the walls in the front room. The front room was a bit dark. There were narrow rectangular windows near the top of the ceiling, two on each side of the room and it provided some light but not much. There was a heavy panel of linen over the front door to keep the wind and dust out and that also kept out the light. There was wooden furniture scattered around the room, also colorfully decorated with nature scenes or scenes of mythology. The next room had more elaborate paintings on the walls, including a scene of a man, woman and child going on a boat ride in a skiff while underneath the Nile on the wall, hippos and crocodiles rested on the river bottom. Rose walked over to it and gazed at it in wonder.

"This is beautiful," she said to Nefer while the Doctor came up behind her and admired it.

"That's my husband's work. He is a painter," Nefer said, coming up beside him. "He mainly paints tombs and monuments but this was something he did to decorate our home. It's supposed to be me, him and our daughter."

"It's gorgeous," Rose said.

They moved into the back room. Part of it was the kitchen and Rose noticed a Nubian girl was cutting onions on a wooden table that was decorated with lotus blossoms. The girl looked like she was ten and she had a bald head and was naked. Off to the side of the room was a large hole in the ceiling and a wooden ladder the led up and out onto the roof. In the corner was a large reed mat on the floor and there was another table and a few chairs. Nefer asked them to sit and asked the girl who was called Nut to fetch them something to eat and drink. Rose realized with a shock that Nut was Nefer's slave. Nut went over to the reed mat and moved it. There was a hole in the ground and Nut slid into it and brought up a reed basket filled with bread and onions and a large clay pot and three clay goblets. She came up out of the hole and carried everything to the table where she'd been chopping onions. They watched while she poured thick beer from the pot into the goblets and then brought everything over to the table. She sat it in front of Rose and the Doctor. Rose thanked her and when she spoke, Nut froze and stared at her in shock. Rose wondered for a moment why she was gazing at her like that and then she realized she was staring at her blonde hair in wonderment.

"Nut!"

Nut jerked back to reality and spun around to see Nefer glaring at her.

"Get back to work before I flog you," Nefer said.

Nut bowed her head and walked back to the table. Rose seethed at the treatment of Nut while the Nubian girl hurried to put the pot back inside the hole and cover it over with the mat before getting back to her work. Nefer sat down with them and calmly ate and drank her beer while Rose watched Nut work without getting anything from the table. Rose noticed the Doctor was watching her and she guessed the anger was showing on her face.

"So, what brings you to Egypt?" Nefer said to them.

"We're looking for work," the Doctor said, taking a bit of onion from the basket. "We're traveling the world and we pay our way by working odd jobs. Do you know of any jobs around here?"

"Can you paint? They could use more painters on the tombs and monuments," Nefer said with a shrug.

"I can. I'm not sure about Athena," the Doctor said. "I can also make statues. Did many sculptures back in Athens."

"They could use that as well," Nefer said. "I'm not sure about what your wife could do, except perhaps be a servant? People always look for barbarians to hire as servants."

Rose waited for the Doctor to tell her they weren't married but to her surprise, he nodded and swallowed the onion in his mouth.

"We considered hiring ourselves out as servants but if they're looking for sculptors and painters, we could inquire about that as well."

"Well, if you wait until my husband returns from work, I could ask him to take you with him in the morning. The Pharaoh wants her summer home decorated and she always wants monuments made. That would be perfect if you're looking for temporary work."

"Splendid," the Doctor said.

Rose watched while Nut finished chopping the onions. She went back to the larder, went into it and brought up the basket. She added the onions to it and put it back, covering the hole over with the mat. Then she went up the ladder and came back down, carrying a huge reed fan. Rose was shocked again when Nut came up to the table and began to fan all of them while she watched beads of sweat trickle down Nut's forehead. She clenched her fist, her blood boiling while she noticed Nefer wasn't even paying attention to the girl or the fan. She caught the Doctor's eyes and he shook his head and mouthed, "No." to her. Rose sighed and pulled off a tiny hunk of bread, eating it in a sullen silence.

The Doctor waited until Nefer went up the ladder and onto the roof before he spoke.

"I know why you're angry but now is not the time or place for protest," he said to her.

Rose pointed to Nut who was still fanning them.

"I know but this is how life is here," the Doctor said softly. "I don't like it either but you can either start a slave rebellion and free every slave in Egypt or go meet Hatshepsut, we don't have time for both. And I will tell you, that Hatshepsut also has slaves and so do the nobles."

Rose shook her head.

"I never understood why people could do this to other people," she said, gesturing to Nut.

"Because slavery has existed here for centuries and if you're born into that system and grow up with it, that's normal to you," the Doctor said. "You come from a time when slavery is considered evil so that's how you view it. Lecturing Nefer on the evils of slavery will probably get you a blank look or she'll probably dismiss you as a crazy barbarian. Especially since Greece has slaves as well. You and me are outsiders here. We're considered barbarians which is probably one step above the slaves. You try to start an insurrection; you'll be put to death. So as detestable as it is to sit back and do nothing, at the moment, that is the wisest thing to do."

Rose nodded and sighed. The Doctor gave her a sympathetic look.

"You have so much compassion for others," he said to her. "That's one of the things I admire about you."

Rose smiled at that. The Doctor glanced at Nut and looked up at the hole in the ceiling. Rose watched while he beckoned to Nut. Nut walked to him and began to fan him. The Doctor shook his head and put his finger to his lips. He reached into a pouch that was hanging from a leather belt around his waist and pulled out a jelly baby from a small white sack. He mimed eating it and gave it to Nut. Nut examined it for a moment before putting it in her mouth. She took a bite and her eyes widened with delight. The Doctor gave her another one after glancing up at the ceiling and Nut took it eagerly and ate it while the Doctor patted her head. He glanced up again and gave her a bit of his beer to drink. Nut drank it and whispered her thanks. The Doctor nodded and put his finger to his lips.

"Our secret," he said to her.

Nut nodded and the Doctor whispered that she better get back to what she was doing before she got in trouble. He passed Nut one more jelly baby and Rose smiled at the happiness on the little girl's face when she ate the candy. Before Nefer came back downstairs, Nut was fanning them again but Rose noticed a conspiratorial look passed between the child and the Doctor while Nefer passed by them.

XOXOXOXOXOXOX

As the sun was going down, Nefer's husband Meritamun came home along with her daughter, Senemut. The Doctor and Rose shook hands with Meritamun before he left to wash himself and get the sweat, dust and grime off his body. Both he and his daughter had shaved heads, except Senemut had a long lock of braided hair that was known as a youth lock. The Doctor explained to Rose that all children wore them until adulthood when it was cut off in a rite of passage ceremony. She noticed that Senemut went naked while Meritamun wore a simple heavy linen kilt and Nefer wore a light linen dress. Suppper consisted of beer, onions, bread and some pieces of roasted duck that Nut helped Nefer cook over an outdoor fire. They took their supper up on the roof, under the stars and the moon and the Doctor told Meritamun the same story he'd told Nefer. Nut crouched nearby with the jug of beer and refilled it when Meritamun beckoned to her.

"We have been very fortunate this season," Meritamun was telling the Doctor while they ate. "The Pharaoh, may she live in peace and prosperity, needs work done on her palace and is commission several statues and an obelisk. If you are skilled enough, I think I can get you a job and I will inquire with the foreman if any servants are needed so Athena can find work as well," he said, nodding to Rose. "I don't think that'll be a problem though. I know that they might need priestesses for Isis, she could do that as well if she's taught how to show proper respect to the goddess and perform the sacred rites."

"Or…" the Doctor teased. "She could embalm the dead."

Meritamun sniggered at that.

"Somehow I don't think Egyptians would want a female barbarian touching their bodies," he said. "Of course, I'm not that familiar with Greece but if she was an embalmer there…"

"She wasn't, I was just joking," the Doctor said.

Meritamun smiled at that.

"Nice to know that barbarians have a sense of humor," he said. "I have met several and they seem so serious. They were very unpleasant. Most people here celebrate life and we try to laugh as often as possible. Laughter is good for the ka."

"Ka?" Rose said.

"Yes, the spirit that resides inside a human, one of the things that animate it and give it life."

"Oh, a soul," Rose said. "Yes, I agree, laughter is good for the soul."

"You know, my wife could use a bit of help around the house as well," Meritamun said. "Nut helps but she is still young and she can't do everything. Since I started painting for the tombs and monuments of the Pharaoh, may she live in peace and prosperity; we have risen in status and have been able to afford a slave to help around the house. But if you can't find work at the palace, I will pay you to help her."

"Thank you," Rose said, wishing he'd pay Nut as well.

"Apart from that, the only thing a barbarian could probably do is be a prostitute and work in the brothels," Meritamun said.

Rose eyed the Doctor when he snorted in the middle of taking a swig of beer.

"No, thanks, I'll give that a miss," she said dryly.

"Then I will ask the foreman if there is any work in the palace for you. I leave just after dawn so be ready to leave then."

"We will," the Doctor said. "And thank you."

Meritamun nodded and they continued to eat and make small talk for a few hours more.

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