PHAROH’S PALACE

Khamet awoke to a world of wonderful foods he had never experienced and a plush pampering unlike anything he had ever known. There were people around the palace whose only job was to see to the care and comfort of the mau’s. Khamet had one assigned to him alone. The girl was young and Khamet had a particular fondness for her. That is, she reminded him of Umayma and became the one he identified with as food, water and affection.

When Khamet went to explore, she would follow, carrying a small pouch of food and a little jug of water, which Khamet learned to ask for. The girl, who the others called Halima, learned the different inflections in his voice quickly and with a soothing word she would set out some food and pour a bit of water for Khamet. He ate and she would stroke him softly until he moved on or fell asleep.

He was royalty.

Khamet slept in a special bed in the chamber of the one called Pharaoh who had bowed to him the evening he encountered the snake. Halima would leave him for the evening most of the time, but one night Pharaoh had her stay. She did so every night thereafter and after that she no longer followed Khamet.

The loss of Halima’s attentions didn’t upset Khamet as much as he was relieved to be able to go where he wanted without being watched, especially in the night. He still enjoyed observing the humans and their goings on, but when he was being followed it was not the same.

Khamet still slept on the pillows at the end of the bed and was treated very well. He wore a chain of gold and stones that went around his neck, down his back and around all four of his legs. He did not like it very much, but he tolerated it as it seemed to identify him to all the members of the house. He received a great deal of special attention the other mau did not.

The main house always had some activity during the day. Pharaoh sat in a large room on a huge golden chair and people would be ushered in one by one to speak to him. Sometimes Khamet would detect the heavy scent of dog in the Palace. He identified it with the tall man the night he arrived. He would follow the scent as far as he could, but it always ended at a closed door or would dissipate before he could locate the source.

It took a while, but he eventually knew the palace so well he was able to move from perch to perch and lounge to observe everything while lazing the day away. There were statues and vases, carvings and etchings over most of the walls and Khamet found some of them interesting for reasons he could not explain. Sometimes if the light struck a polished surface just right he would catch shadows and movement of some sort in the reflection, like a typical mau he would attack the wall to catch it. It reminded him of the night he had locked eyes with the snake and he saw a reflection that was not him. He had never noticed his reflection before he came to the palace. Everything at Umayma’s house had been covered with dust and dirt.

Khamet had not been threatened with anything since he encountered the snake and had not experienced the déjà vu. He wondered if other animals experienced it. He thought of Chione and wondered if she had seen the lioness coming for her and not been able to avoid it? Perhaps the extra sight only came to mau’s for they were blessed with quick reflexes. However his sisters and brothers didn’t seem to have such knowledge either. He had almost lost himself to the falcon, but he had escaped. Humans obviously didn’t have the ability. They often injured themselves in clumsy ways.

Khamet considered all of this as he lay at the foot of a great statue watching three women cleaning and polishing a large concave brass bowl that hung on the wall. Khamet had seen humans looking into it for reasons he did not know. There was one in another room that sat on a table. Khamet would often lie inside the bowl as the metal was cool and it could be a wonderful reprieve from the heat.

One of the women said something to the other two and they hoisted the bowl and brought it down to the ground. They went away leaving the other woman to continue polishing. She stopped suddenly and called out to the other two women, then got up and followed. Khamet wanted a closer inspection and leapt down to made his way over to the bowl. Something was moving in the brass reflection and as he approached, his own reflection suddenly became clear.

Khamet bobbed his head up and down shifting his view. Then he raised his paw to bat the reflection. He looked away to see where the women were and when he turned back what he saw caused him to hiss and crouch. All the fur on his back stood on end and he swatted at the reflection. He struck the bowl then ran across the chamber and leapt back up to his perch. He crouched and stared down at the bowl. Even from this distance he could still see himself looking up at him. Then the women returned and his face vanished.

What had he just seen? He wondered as the women finished polishing bowl then hung it back on the wall. The reflection looked like him, but it was not him.

The bowl didn’t look the same to him any longer. His curiosity being what it was, he took to coming back to the room regularly to stare as if it were some mysterious creature threatening him, but it was so high on the wall he couldn’t see anything. Was it the bowl or his reflection in it that caused such alarm? He wondered and moved around the palace to find something else that would show his reflection.

The reflective bowls were all set high for humans to see themselves, but there was a large one in the room where Pharaoh sat to receive people. Khamet waited for the sun to be in the correct position, for the bowls did not work well without sunlight. He perched himself on top of Pharaoh’s great chair and watched his reflection in the brass mirror. His tail swished back and forth as did the tail in the reflection and he continued to stare at himself.

Nothing changed. Nothing felt different.

Khamet stood and walked two steps to one side then back again staring at the cat on top of the great chair doing the same thing.

Nothing happened.

He raised his head. He waved his paw once. He sat and lounged staring at the reflection and let his eyes slowly drift closed. He lazed on the top of the chair letting his tail dangle.

When Khamet’s eyes opened he saw himself sitting and staring across at him lounging. His eyes opened wide and he sat up shocked. His reflection did not move.

There was no chair in the reflection. It was as if he was staring into a window.

He meowed and the other did the same a moment later. He could not hear it. Then the reflection crouched as if something was behind it. It turned and ran. The reflection faded and Khamet suddenly saw himself come back into view again.

Khamet stared until the sunset, but the other mau never returned.

The throne became his new perch, but whenever Pharaoh took his seat to receive people he would pick him up and set him in his lap and stroke him. It was upsetting as there was no telling when the view would change. He looked for other things that threw reflections, but nothing worked as well as the throne room. The pool in the middle of the courtyard did so, but it was extremely limited.

One question that continued to plague him concerned the man who smelled of dog. Khamet would still find and follow the heavy dog scent, but he could not locate the man or the dogs that made the scent. He didn’t have the nose of a dog which was a good thing as they were very stupid.

Khamet never understood what the humans said though he could determine some of their names as they got repeated, and he always had a clear sense of emotion and intent. They did things that seemed to give them importance. In the quiet darkness of night they cuddled and cooed with each other very like cats did openly. Life in the great palace was both more interesting and more boring than where he had come from. The most boring however were the guards who stood and did nothing for hours on end unless they were training or training their pets.

In the palace there were a dozen dogs, only two of which were used by guards. The rest had baboons which seemed easier to feed and could be more ferocious than any dog. The rest of the dogs simply inhabited the palace grounds very like the cats. The zoo contained lions, zebras, one even had a crocodile. There was a gazelle that was rumored to have been run down by Pharaoh himself in his youth. The zoo was an impressive place to visit where all the animals were kept and fed well.

A scream erupted from the direction of the zoo one day. A new lioness had attacked a careless feeder and had escaped. She was now lost among the tight passages and people were running away in terror.

Khamet found a perch and watched as the guards blocked all the exits save one. Each in turn said something to their baboons and the creatures’ suddenly went berserk jumping and pulling on the end of their tethers. They hooted and screamed baring their long sharp teeth and all at once the guards released the baboons into the darkness, then stepped back readying themselves.

There was a scream from someone still inside and the sound of the baboon’s cry of attack. There was another scream and then the lioness released a roar. A moment later the lioness shot out of the darkness with the baboons giving chase. A net was waiting and the lioness was captured easily. One of the baboons looked to have been mauled. Its left arm hung limp and it had a deep gash that was oozing blood. Another didn’t come out at all. The remaining baboons taunted the frightened lioness until they could be tethered. The injured baboon was ignored. Khamet watched as the injured baboon crawled to its guard and the guard kicked it away. It was no longer a threat and it couldn’t fight, it was useless.

The baboon was called Chione by its guard and not wanting to get to close to any of the baboons, Khamet had only observed her from a distance. The guards all retreated and Chione, bloodied and week, her left arm hanging limp, took a few steps and collapsed. Khamet watched as the baboon got up to follow and slowly exited the courtyard dragging her arm.

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