Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Dead?”

“Yeah, dead.”

“49?”

“Yeah, 49.”

Zem couldn’t believe it. It was only two days since he’d had to chasten his employee for letting the job get the better of his personal hygiene, yet again.

“So… He lived to a fair old age then?” Grudgingly admitted Zem.

“Better than most, boss, better than most,” Tej agreed. Even though he was Zem’s best friend, he knew not to contradict his superior.

Zem lay back and reflected on whether he had actually chosen his profession or if it had chosen him? Reasoning that it was too early in the day for such philosophical speculation, he let it go.

Actually, the pay and conditions could have been a lot worse. And one day off in 10 wasn’t bad. They all knew of other jobs a little less envious and a little more taxing that could have been their lot instead.

On hearing of his irreplaceable employee’s demise, Zem felt the need to lie down. The fact that he was already practically in a prone position on his workbench, saved a little time and effort.

Tej lay flat on his back on his own bench, eyes closed, doing a fair impression of a dead Egyptian himself.

“What killed him Tej?” Zem felt compelled to ask.

Eventually Tej responded in his usual laconic way. “His new wife! It was his wedding day yesterday. And with her being young … And virile… His heart just… gave out. I’m not surprised though. What do you expect? Marrying your sister’s 14 year old daughter?”

Zem was genuinely sorry, of course. Even though he was acutely aware that he was now short one extremely skilled artist. Not everyone could mix to the ex-genius’s exact consistency. It was an acquired skill. Mixing the shades of paints without the use of any measuring device was indeed an art.

Zem realized that generations of his particular special acumen had just come to an end. How could he replace him? Zem knew he would have to carefully think about what to do next.

Right now, he needed to hear all the juicy details. “She was a young buck then?” Zem encouraged.

“Sure was. Bit of a goer, by all accounts. And it isn’t as if ‘yer man’ was collecting them. She was his first,”

“Silly fool.” Zem chastened his former employee.

A lone clanging of a bell sounded in the far distance which at the time didn’t register with either Zem or Tej. Its significance did become apparent later. Nobody ever rang the bell in the square unless some news of great import was to be bestowed on the village.

“He asked for it sure enough,” was Tej’s considered opinion.

Zem felt a speech coming on. “If a person is fortunate enough to reach our advanced stage in life, and beyond, by sidestepping all life’s attempts to kill him, he is extremely foolish to tempt fate like that. Well, I think he is.”

Zem didn’t actually move any muscles during his eloquent homily, but the tone of his voice left no doubt where Zem stood on that particular issue.

“Do you think we should put in an appearance at the site sometime today Zem? said Tej, breaking Zem’s day-dream.

“What now?” Zem replied, a little shocked.

“Pharaoh’s tomb won’t build itself.” Tej felt the need to point out.

Zem started to feel a little pressured. “Maybe tomorrow, eh, Tej?”

“Why is it Zem that nobody around here can work independently? Why does everybody always need a kick up the rear?” Tej was starting get a little righteous.

“Not everybody shows such a lack of commitment y’know,” Zem felt the need to point out, feeling slightly hurt, “There are those who pull their weight.

“Yeah? Like who?”

After failing to bring anybody immediately to mind Zem had to concede, “I suppose you’re right. We’ll get out that schedule again. Tomorrow, eh? See if we can’t implement a new program. We’ll stick to it this time.”

Tej pulled his ‘you’re the boss’ face. He obviously didn’t believe a word Zem was saying. The glare that told Zem, if he wanted to fool himself then that was alright with Tej. He wasn’t fooling anybody but himself though.

Zem felt lazier than he actually was.

Zem’s and Tej’s conversation was disturbed by a light tap on the door, followed by the immediate entrance of Im, one of Zem’s twin sons (the younger by fourty seconds).

Zem and Tej rose to their feet in a mild state of curiosity. It was very rare to have their privacy invaded, in what was after all their sanctuary.

“Pater? Mr T?” Im acknowledged his elders and supposed betters with a slight nod. “I say, you’ll never guess?” Im wasn’t usually the type of person to enjoy delivering bad news but his voice couldn’t hide a certain gloating timbre. “There has been a proclamation in the square don’t you know. Pharaoh is to visit to inspect his tomb, and asses his funerary arrangements for his afterlife. The show will take place at noon tomorrow,” said Im in his best ‘told you so’ voice.

The look of shock and horror on Zem’s face exactly mirrored that of Tej’s.

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