“He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell
And on the third day, He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into Heaven.”
— Apostles’ Creed
The endless, grey fields of the Duat glistened in the glow of the dimming light. The sun god finished his daily voyage through the land of the dead and soon darkness would fall over the plains while the men on the surface would welcome a new day. The lands, devoid of colour, were static; only shaken every now and again by the disorderly trembles of Apophis, the great ashen snake of chaos.
Duat. The place of the final judgment of souls, the vestibule of the afterlife. The lands spoken about in hushed voices by men, except for only those convinced of the purity of their own heart and the lightness of their soul. Yet, still, no one could ever know what awaited them past the gates to the palace of Osiris. The everlasting glare of Isis, the divine guide of the Duat, compelled them to walk through the shadowy plain to reach their final test.
Some said that the gaze of Isis haunted them even during their lives. Words of the old legends would say that those who saw the dark eyes of the goddess in their dreams, or in sickly feverish delirium or ravings after long days of exposure to the sun in the deserts and floodplains surrounding the great river would soon be called to the colourless expanse to fulfil their mortal destiny. The rightful Queen of the Nile, whose Hedjet-bearing sons ruled Egypt, called for her subjects.
The goddess observed the souls passing through Duat. Whether the sun god moved through the land of the dead or the land of the living, the procession of souls ceaselessly proceeded through the plains, to the palace of Osiris. She had called each one of them, she had gazed upon them while they had still been above. Now, she carefully regarded each soul moving past.
First walked children, followed by their mothers with infants in their hands. Then, young men, called to Duat prematurely by unfortunate accidents. One limped — his foot had been crushed by a falling stone. Another walked covering his side with his hand, wounded by a stray horn of a half-tamed beast. Next, a group of fearless soldiers walked past, reunited with their brothers and enemies after a battle. After them, scholars, priests and sages, those called because of invisible illnesses or, simply, of old age.
The procession moved further. She felt the dread of every one man and woman. They each avoided looking into the big, forever open irises of the goddess. What awaited each of them past the gates of Osiris’s palace, she did not know. The legend went that their heart would be weighed against a feather of Maat. The ones found lighter would be granted a pass, through to the lands of eternal bliss; the others destroyed, forever denying them the grace of afterlife.
Such was the fate of her people. Life in perpetual fear of death. Even her sons, the pharaohs, each awaited the day they would see her glaring eyes with anxiety. A peasant or a king, a thief or a healer, a soldier, merchant or priest, each would suffer the same fate, each would at some point see the deep and dark pupils calling them to their destiny.
The goddess scarcely wondered why the world was made this way.
The last man was different.
He followed the procession like the rest but did not keep his eyes fixed on a point on the horizon where others expected the palace to appear. Instead, he glanced around every now and again, with a soft and charitable look clearly searching for something or someone specific. He also seemed far more battered than the rest, more so even than the warriors or the man grazed by a bull.
His long, brown hair was glued together with dried up blood and ichor, and marks of individual red streams flowed down his face from open wounds on his head, finding their estuaries in his unkempt and bushy beard.
Deep wounds ran across his back as well, inflicted by numerous lashes. The whip which administered them was of a different kind and purpose than the ones used by foremen driving slaves to work in the Nile delta. Those known to Egyptians were long and narrow, intended to cause precise, sharp bites, and left no marks. The scourge that had hurt the man must have been made of long strands of leather that chewed deep into the skin, tearing off the flesh and leaving the wounds grievously open.
Inspecting him further, the goddess saw four gaping holes in the man’s hands and feet, each the size of a stater coin. Grim remnants after some kind of a barbaric torture display, one that the goddess had never seen and wished never to witness. The people of the Nile had invented various ingenious ways of inflicting unspeakable hurt to each other, but the way this man was treated would have been unbecoming to any son of Kemet.
Further even more, a broad cavity in the right side indicated a vigorous strike with a spear or another kind of pole-arm. Unlike every other one, that wound was clean, with no visible signs of blood around it. The life-giving scarlet liquid had ceased to flow in the Duat — in the land of the dead there was no flow — but even before the man’s descent it was clear that there had been not enough blood left, or that it had been cleaned with another substance.
The divine guide wondered who could have possibly inflicted such pain on the man. As soon as he noticed her, he broke out of the procession. A feeling of surprise overcame Isis. The surprise was later replaced with concern, then with fear.
The massacred man walked towards her. Despite his wounds, he seemed regal, seemed greater than any and all of the souls who came before him. He looked straight into her eyes. His face displayed no emotion that she knew or could name, and unspeakable terror soon clamped her throat. Was this man a god greater than her?
They both stood there, for brief seconds that felt like aeons. She tried averting her eyes, but could not. For the first time, the goddess that inflicted fear of death into all of her subjects was terrified of something herself.
Finally, the man spoke in a language she did not understand. His tone was captivating and sweet like honey, unlike anything she had ever heard before. He gazed deeper into her eyes. The fear went away and she succumbed to the words of the man, even though she did not understand them.
He placed his bloodied forearm over the eyes of the goddess and whispered another sentence in an unfamiliar tongue.
The goddess blinked. And as she blinked, the man disappeared. And along with him, the fear of death in the people of the Nile.