Meryt's heart nearly missed a beat. Who was the intruder? A thief? But what could be so attractive in a very ordinary household that someone would risk the harsh penalty meted out even to petty criminals?
Meryt realized that it was too late to start yelling and screaming. The house was fast asleep and nobody would be able to come to her help quickly enough. And if the man became trapped on the roof of the house he might turn on his attackers in desperation. But what should she do? The staircase was the only means of reaching the roof, which was too high for her to jump off. There was nowhere to hide. Panic seized her. Her brain refused to work and her limbs could not move.
And then a shrill squeal pierced the night. It was followed by a startled exclamation, a heavy thud, and a deafening crash. Then there was a moment of silence followed by soft squelching sounds which Meryt was unable to interpret. It was as though a large hippo had somehow taken up residence in their courtyard which had been miraculously transformed into a muddy pool. And then Meryt could hear the echoing footsteps of a man staggering off as if fearing for his life. Then everything went quiet again.
But the silence lasted only for a short while. Suddenly people came running from all directions. Oil lamps were produced and their flickering light revealed a scene which would have reduced every beer drinker to tears. Most of the beer jars which had been so carefully filled and sealed the day before were in complete disarray, and many of them were broken. The slightly scummy liquid which was oozing out of them turned the ground into a muddy mess. The heavy odour of beer pervaded the courtyard.
Nobody was quite sure what had happened. There was no sign of any intruder. A thief might have tried to steal a couple of jars of beer but what would have been the point of breaking them? 'Have you seen anybody?' asked Meryt's mother. But Meryt who was searching through the broken fragments of pottery jars just shook her head. And so after much lamentation and hand wringing - what were the men going to say when they came back from work and there was no beer in the house? - the consensus of opinion was that all this was due to a mischievous house spirit. In the end everybody went back to sleep because there was little that could be done before daybreak.
But Meryt was not telling the truth when she pretended that she did not know what had happened. Nedjmet, her pet cat, liked sleeping on the stairs and it was her who made that dreadful shriek when the man climbing the stairs nearly stepped on her. And the man was so surprised that he quite involuntarily made a step to his right and fell off the staircase on top of the beer jars lined up along the wall below.
Meryt's thoughts were like a pair of chariot horses, prancing and beating the ground with their hooves, and unable to stay quiet for a moment. She could not go back to sleep. Because under the mat on which she was lying was the object which she had picked up from among the debris of beer jars in the courtyard. It must have been dropped by the intruder in his flight. It was too dark to see but she could feel the dagger's beautifully inlaid handle and could touch its dangerously smooth and vicious blade. It was the same dagger she had seen stuck in the belt of the tall stranger dressed in blue in the palace earlier that day.
On to Chapter 13.
Back to For Young People.