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Petsuchos

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There is the evil man who is calm like a crocodile in water.
Instruction of Ankhsheshonq
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III, p.204

 

Her first memory is of a fish, too big to eat, too dumb to play with. It circles her in the shallow hatchling pool, and she swats it with her spiny tail.

Her second memory is learning that crocodiles, generally, do not speak. She hears the human guards speaking, often, and grows to understand their words. When they approach the pool she slips beneath the water and their words are muffled. They talk of taking hatchlings for the sacrifice, and so when they come that day with meats in their hands, leaning over the water and calling, she does not go to them. She is wary of their tricks. They do not take her that day, or any other.

"Where do you take them?" she asks one day.

The humans stay still for a long time, and she swiftly snipes the meat from their hands.

 

She grows long. Her claws shoot out, and her teeth grow yellow and harder. She gets strength in her tail like never before; it pushes her through the pool with a speed she knows the humans fear. She is moved to a bigger pool, alone, but it is empty, and soon she has seen all there is to see. She swims with dull abandon, gravitating around the entryway where the guards stand, awaiting her next feeding.

Eventually, she is visited by a human who calls himself priest, his head hanging low above the water. It would not be an effort to kill him.

He puts a hand in the water, splashes it around. She does not attack, for she has been irrevocably tamed.

"You can speak?" he says.

"Yes," she replies.

"It is a miracle."

She rather thinks it is the opposite.

"Sebek, pointed of teeth, is truly among us."

"I am not he."

"Who then? The eater of souls?" His tone suggests this would be a bad alternative.

She considers for a while. She is unsure, truly, of who she is. "I have no name."

The human splashes again, and it tickles her hide distantly. "You are now Petsuchos, Lord of Waters."

 

She is quickly moved to a larger pool, with rocks and flora and a shoal of fish which she delights in disturbing with her tail. She is fed daily on honeyed cakes and juicy meats, dropped into her waiting mouth by an endless stream of charmed visitors. They leave food, also, for the humans. They drape shining wreaths of jewels around her neck and she writhes and snaps, confused, until the shiny rocks come loose. She eats one, just once, swallows it whole, but it is tasteless and not at all like honey, so she lets them sink to the floor of her pool thereafter, winking in the hot noon sun.

She soon grows fat. It occurs to her that she is a prize for these humans, and that they worship her. They are a strange species, but she is young and fond of honey, and she takes their name of Petsuchos gladly.

One evening she is visited by a strange being. It is not a human, though it looks human, and it is not a fish, though it is small as one. It sits on the mosaiced edge of her pool. She does not attack, for she has been irrevocably tamed.

"Are you the true Petsuchos, come to usurp me?"

The little creature which is neither fish nor human looks at her for a long while. "I am not Petsuchos, and neither are you. He does not reside in this land any longer."

She is confused, and not overly fond of visitors who do not bring food.

"You are a miracle," it says. "Or perhaps a curse. I am a fairy, and I have a prophecy for you."

The fairy's prophecy, it transpires, is not hers alone. "There is a prince," it tells her. "He is a beautiful boy, and it is a great pity; but what IS to happen WILL happen. It is written in the books of fate that he must die, either by a crocodile, or a serpent, or by a dog. If we could save him we would, but that is beyond our power."

She does not wish to kill this prince, for she has been irrevocably tamed, but if she is not Petsuchos then she is not sure who she is, and if indeed she is the one in this prophecy, then perhaps she is an untamed killer after all. She knows of the book of fates; they are not to be disagreed with.

She asks the fairy, "What must I do?"

"You must wait," answers the fairy. "For he is not yet grown and must first face the dog and the serpent. You will know when it is your time, but until then you must remain Petsuchos, but be very, very quiet. They must not hear you speak again."

She is confused, but she complies, for fairies bearing prophecies are not to be disagreed with.

 

She remains Petsuchos for a very, very long time, but no prince comes. She is silent all her years, and soon the humans forget that she could ever speak at all. They ignore her often, and when she grows stiff and slow she is transported to a very large pool, the largest she has yet seen, but the water is dirty and there are no jewels, and though she waits, no one brings her honey cakes.

The years go on, and she eats water rats and birds that alight on the calm surface, and this food she catches herself, for there is no one now to bring it to her. There are others of her kind here, but they are monstrous and do not speak, so she spends her time circling a large rock, thinking of honey.

She kills a human once, when she has not eaten in a while and the hunger has made a wild animal out of her. He is a slow thin man, and he wields a stick into the pool with which he means to lure out fish. There are no fish here, she has eaten them all, and though she does not wish to attack, for she has been irrevocably tamed, she is hungry.

He tastes nothing like what she is accustomed to.

She kills humans when she can get them after that. Nature is not to be disagreed with.

One evening she is approached by a fairy. She believes it to be the same fairy, but she is not certain, for it has been many years and fairies are but little things who surely do not live very long at all.

"You are free," says the fairy. "It took me a long while to find you. The world is big indeed."

She wonders if fairies taste more like humans or fish. She would like to find out.

"Your time is near," it says, unaware of her thoughts. "The prophecy is in motion. The prince has faced the dog and the serpent; he will come to you very shortly. You must pursue him; he is your fate. There is only one means by which he can shake off your power over him, and this you must tell him. If he can dig a pit in the dry sand which will remain full of water, your spell will be broken. If not death will come to him speedily. You must give him this one chance."

She waits until she is quite certain the fairy is finished speaking before she eats it. It would not do to miss an important part of the prophecy, for it is already a complicated matter.

The next day she lounges on a damp patch of land beside her pool, digesting a cattle hind. The others of her kind are far away and she is quite sleepy, so she lets herself drowse. The sun is hot against her scutes, and the breeze is cool against her nose, and it is almost as pleasant as honey cakes. It is here that she is approached by a young human wearing many jewels, and he is certainly the prince, for he seems to be very frightened of her. She is tired, but prophecies are not to be disagreed with, nor are they to be put off.

"You cannot escape from me," she says, when he has gathered his senses again. "I am your fate, and wherever you go, and whatever you do, you will always find me before you. There is only one means of shaking off my power. If you can dig a pit in the dry sand which will remain full of water, my spell will be broken. If not death will come to you speedily. I give you this one chance."

He seems to feel as though this is unfair, and when a young female who must be his wife comes searching for him, he relates the sorry tale to her. But this human has hope it seems, and runs off with a dangerous smile, leaving the prince to sit atop a rock and await his fate.

She watches him from the bank, her green eyes trained on his. He has a dog, and it fusses about him. She has never eaten dog before. She thinks it must taste like sheep, for they are similar enough.

Presently his wife returns, and they rush off together, digging the pit in the unforgiving sand.

She watches this with very little interest, for she is hungry and the sun is very hot and she would be glad to return to the cool water. She thinks these humans are only concerned with themselves; they do not care for her and they do not know that she was once Petsuchos, hand fed honey in a temple. She does not despair, for she will soon be eating this prince: no sand pit can remain full of water, as sure as nature is not to be disagreed with. She opens her whitish-yellow jaws.

When they are finished digging, the humans pour water into the pit, and place a curious plant inside. It floats on the water, and though nature is not to be disagreed with, the water does not soak away. The pit remains full, as mysterious as a fairy bearing a prophecy, or a crocodile who can speak.

When the humans yell in victory, she returns to the water and is glad of it, for her hide is thick with dried mud by now. She does not stay behind to speak with the prince; she finds she has nothing much to say to humans now.

The humans jump and touch each other, and the dog leaps beside them. It lurches suddenly after a duck alighting on the pool surface, and it knocks the prince down into the pool, where he is tangled in the pale reeds. She could attack, and she is hungry enough for it, but she does not, for she has been irrevocably tamed, and he has won his freedom.

The dog, however, she gobbles swiftly, for nature is not to be disagreed with.