Chapter 7

Zem’s first sensation on gaining consciousness was a throbbing pain between his temples slowly gaining in intensity.

Simultaneously the cold sweat, nausea and pain in his guts vied for supremacy.

The stale smell, when it hit his nostrils, was the starting pistol. Any judge would have called it a dead heat. Zem only just managed to drag himself to his feet, with lightning speed, before violently vomiting.

In time honored fashion Zem had performed a wide arc, pebble-dash that any Saturday night binger would have been proud to call their own. The display included carrots and everything.

Through the haze of tears, which always seem to accompany a good spit, Zem first became aware of, then heard, his lifelong friend snoring loudly in the corner.

Hangovers are the same the world over. Always have been – always will be. No matter how good, bad or indifferent the celebrations from the night before had been, “never again!” is always the knee-jerk emotion.

It was slightly out of context this time, though, as the village had just had a right result.

As they weren’t all dead, the village as a whole were quite pleased. Those who hadn’t indulged heavily to excess after the relief of the previous night’s 11th hour reprieve, were already talking about new leaves and never putting themselves in that position again etc.

Zem however, as soon as he could find voice, had declared a public holiday then gone to find somewhere cool, dark and quiet where he could lie down and feel sorry for himself some more.

A number of his colleagues had done likewise.

Zem really had ‘tied one on’ the night before. He couldn’t blame himself though. Zem considered that when one worked oneself up to the status of playing God, and poisoning the whole village, and then your eldest calmly saunters in and tells you not to bother ‘there’s going to be a no show’, what else can you do?.

It appeared pharaoh had better things to do than pay them a visit. It isn’t hard to imagine the amount of alcohol needed to blot out the idea that you nearly became a mass murderer.

To someone of Zem’s more or less peaceful demeanor, It would be surprising if Zem slept well at night for some time to come.

“Ahem, could I have some silence please?” Zem asked the gathering. “I will take questions at the end.”

Zem didn’t like addressing large crowds. In the evening of their public holiday he had felt obliged to gather all the village together to reassure them that they had a future. After all, he had nearly killed them all last night.

Even though the process was to have been voluntary, better the devil you know, so to speak, he had been the instigator. The villagers silenced to a hush inside the large temple to hear their foreman speak.

“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking,” started Zem, “I feel I must put everyone’s mind at rest.” Zem still felt a little queasy and was unnerved by the sea of hostile faces now gazing up at him. “It was er, with some regret, er, that we, er, I, came to the conclusion that as a village the best way was to take the easy or most pragmatic way out. As I say it was regretful, but thankfully pharaoh’s attention was taken elsewhere at the last moment and we are saved.”

This was going too well.

“New work details have been scheduled. Everyone will have a new rota by tomorrow morning. This time, schedules will be kept to. When pharaoh returns he will be so impressed, he will want to reward us all personally.”

Not realizing Zem had actually finished saying his piece, a deathly silence ensued. “Any questions?”

“I think I speak for everyone when I ask again about the dartboard we’ve been promised for as long as I can remember?” Psammy intoned in his usual gruff voice as he stood to his feet. “How long must we wait?” moaned the shop steward.

“Er, I’ll look into it, again,” Zem smiled. He’d forgotten about Psammy, the only thing Psammy wanted out of this life was to be able to throw a few arrows after toiling all day in the service of his pharaoh.

There were two more questions. The first came from Wadj.

In every audience, crowd, gathering or whatever name you want to give to the folk who attend such events, there is always one who has to ask the totally irrelevant question. In this case Wadj obliged. Wadj is a good husband. He doesn’t beat his wives. He is a hard and conscientious worker, and is even a law-abiding citizen. However, ‘what has that got to do with anything?’ is the question his workmates constantly ask him.

Wadj wanted to know from Zem “Can you confirm whether anyone in pharaoh’s harem is with child, and if so, will the child be male or female, and if in the positive and gender known, when will the issue take place?”

The answer of course was a quietly spoken “I don’t know.” And a deafeningly unspoken “I don’t care.”

“Do I get my mixture back?” Was the last question asked by mad Mel, from the back of the temple.

Bit of an anti-climax really, Zem felt. He had got himself all worked up over addressing the gathering of his staff, as he liked to call them, for nothing.

They had all turned up and whatever they had expected was over in no time. They would be all back to work at first light in the morning as if the past few days hadn’t taken place.

The words docile, sheep and easily led sprung to Zem’s mind. The foreman castigated himself for being afraid of addressing that lot and told himself that sheep they may be, but they were his flock, and he was going to shepherd them righteously from now on.

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