The Alabaster Jar
Available: September 4, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Series: Ancient Elements, Book #2
Page Count: 124
Join Sam, Amata and Balashi as they continue their adventures in book two of the Ancient Elements series, The Alabaster Jar. Having found a home with his adoptive family, fourteen-year-old Samsuluna (Sam) now moves to Egypt with Balashi and Amata where his quest to solve the mystery of the hidden tomb threatens to tear his family apart.
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- The Alabaster Jar is filled with adventure, intrigue, mystery and Marie develops her characters with such depth and meaning.Cheryl PalosAmazon Reviewer
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Behind the Scenes
The Alabaster Jar Excerpt
Memphis, Egypt –Peret (Season of Planting) 1778 BC
When fourteen-year-old Samsuluna saw the scrawny scribe grab the priest’s robed arm, Sam stepped back into the shadow of a limestone column.
“We just uncovered the entrance to an undiscovered tomb near Giza,” the administrative scribe told Nakthor, the lector priest.
Sam saw Nakthor cup his hand on the side of his mouth. “Does anyone know about this yet?”
The short scribe shook his bald head. “Only our two workers.”
Even in the dim light of Memphis’ setting sun, Sam saw Nakthor’s bottom lip curl into a half-smile. “Draw me a map and start our usual process tomorrow.” Nakthor then gripped the scribe’s shoulder. “But make sure no one sees you. This must remain a secret.”
Sam stepped further into the column’s shadow and waited for the two men to leave the compound of the House of Scrolls. He never liked Nakthor. Every morning Sam endured Nakthor’s high-pitched voice as the priest recited prayers and incantations for the day. And whenever Sam and his adoptive father, Balashi, left with the Egyptian Chief Physician to visit patients in the city of Memphis, they first had to get permission from the priest. Nakthor always granted it, but he never failed to make condescending remarks about Sam and Balashi’s Babylonian citizenship. More than once, Sam heard Nakthor refer to them as unwelcomed foreigners.
Sam shook his head and wondered what he should do about Nakthor’s cryptic conversation. He absent-mindedly touched his tunic where he kept his bronze dagger hidden. Since his near-death experience with the caravan driver in Babylonia two years ago, Sam made sure the dagger never left his side.
As Sam limped home to join his adoptive sister, Amata, for their evening meal, he chewed his lower lip. With each step, he thrust his walking stick deeper into the soft ground as if to tamp down his worried thoughts. Balashi should be going home with him.
Two years had passed since Balashi, the great Babylonian physician, adopted him. At first, Amata seemed unwilling to share her father with Sam, having lost her mother at the age of six to an illness even Balashi couldn’t cure. Gradually, however, the trio grew into a tight-knit family – until their recent move to Egypt.
Sam realized that, lately, Balashi only tore himself away from his study of Egyptian papyri at the House of Scrolls for an occasional visit with a patient. At least, since Sam was still in training, he always accompanied Balashi. In the evening, however, Balashi usually didn’t come home from his studies until long after Sam and Amata went to bed. The more time Balashi spent away from home, the more Amata appeared depressed and distant. Lately she spent much of her free time with the Egyptian princesses at their winter residence in Memphis. Sam feared that Amata was beginning to adopt many Egyptian ways at the expense of her Babylonian identity. He couldn’t even count how many scarab amulets she recently purchased. More importantly, he worried that Balashi’s constant absence would make Amata feel more like he once felt – an orphan. Sam realized his worst fears when he walked into the main room of their Egyptian mud-brick house.
Amata’s normally long black hair barely covered her ears.
Sam gasped. “What did you do to your hair?” He ran over to where Amata sat on her cushion by the eating table. Sam tugged on a strand, as if to make it longer.
Amata jerked her head away from Sam. “I visited with Princess Miut today and she suggested I cut my hair in the Egyptian style. That way it’s easier to wear the new, fashionable wigs.”
Sam stared at Amata for a moment and then sat on his cushion on the other side of the low table. He had no idea fourteen-year-old girls could be so exasperating. “So Princess Miut cut your hair?” Sam wrinkled his nose.
Amata frowned. “No, silly. Her hairdresser cut my hair.”
Just then their Egyptian cook, Eshe, carried in a brass platter filled with emmer wheat flatbread, and placed it between Sam and Amata.
“Dua Netjer en et. Thank you.” Amata nodded and smiled at the cook.
Eshe gave a slight bow and returned to the cooking area in the front courtyard.
Sam watched their Egyptian cook leave and then faced Amata. “Practicing your Egyptian, I see.”
Amata raised her chin. “I spend my whole day with Egyptians, so why shouldn’t I speak their language whenever I can?” Amata picked up a piece of flatbread and spread it with a paste made from beans and spices. She took a bite and chewed it slowly, watching Sam.
Amata, like their tawny, yellow-gray cat, Bastet, sat very still, but looked ready to pounce. Sam tried to think of a way to defuse the conversation. “Ive been thinking about Balashi and me being away so much. “ Sam paused to pick up a piece of flatbread. “I know you spend your mornings at home with tutors to learn more of the Egyptian language and culture, and most of your afternoons with the princesses at the winter residence.” Sam bit off a corner of the coarse bread and chewed, the scent of garlic and onions tickling his nose. “But why don’t we take a trip tomorrow to the pyramids at Giza?"
Amata stared at the plate of bread that sat between them. “I would love that, Sam. It’s been a long time since we’ve all done something together. Father spends so much time studying, I think he’s even forgotten my name.”
Sam cleared his throat. “Well, I meant just the two of us. I think Father has several important appointments with patients tomorrow.”
“Oh. Of course he does. How silly of me.” Amata’s voice sounded tight. “Just the two of us then."
“So, it’s all settled.” Sam slapped his leg and tried to sound cheerful “Tomorrow morning we’ll go down to the Delta first, then on to Giza.” Sam picked up the last piece of bread and took a bite. Talking around the chunks, he added, “I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. He works in a sculptor’s workshop on the Delta. He’s actually a Canaanite slave of the Master Sculptor, but mid-morning his master gives him some free time, so we can visit him then.”
Amata’s eyebrows rose. “How did you meet this Canaanite slave?”
“Balashi and I stitched up his finger when he cut it a few weeks ago. His name is Keret.” Sam took a sip of his barley drink and then continued. “Keret’s got a great sense of humor, and yet he’s quite the gentleman. He gave Balashi a gift for stitching his finger, even though his master, Fenuku, paid for our services. Keret’s two years older than we are, but he reminds me a lot of Enlil.”
Sam saw the corners of Amata’s eyes pinch together. He guessed she missed their Babylonian friend as much as he did.
Amata finished her bread then sat up on her knees. “Well, I agree to visit Keret as long as you promise that we’ll see the Giza pyramids. They’re very sacred, you know.”
Sam rubbed his chin. “It’s about 320 rods from Memphis to Giza, but maybe the Master Sculptor will loan us his donkey. Think you can handle a two-hour donkey ride there and back?”
Amata smiled. “Are you measuring the distance by Babylonian rods or Egyptian rods?”
Sam shrugged his shoulders. “THere’s a difference?”
Amata just rolled her eyes.
Sam laughed, happy to see the color return to Amata’s face once again.
After their evening meal, Amata and Sam walked outside. From their mud-brick house they could see the Nile in the distance. Light from the full moon shimmered off the river. Sam wondered if he should tell Amata about the conversation he heard between Nakthor and the scribe. He adventurous spirit finally got the best of him and he related the enigmatic exchange.
“So, when we visit the Giza pyramids tomorrow,” he concluded, “maybe we could poke around for that hidden tomb.”
Amata frowned. “As long as you don’t get us into trouble. I still haven’t recovered from all the excitement your curiosity caused us in Babylon.”
The next day, having received Balashi’s permission, Sam and Amata walked the short distance to the mouth of the Delta. The port at Peru-Nefer harbored not only ships, but also a dense array of workshops, factories and warehouses that distributed food and merchandise throughout the kingdom.
Sam found Keret behind the Master Sculptor’s workshop eating a quick snack of dried fish. “Amata, I’d like you to meet my friend Keret,” Sam said. “Keret, this is my sister, Amata."
Keret tossed his now empty fish bones into the river and then wiped his hands on the kilt skirt around his waist. “You said she was pretty, but you were wrong.”
Amata stepped back. Sam saw here eyes grow large. If Keret was trying to charm his sister, it wasn’t working.
"She’s not pretty,” Keret said and then laughed. “She’s beautiful!"
Sam pushed Keret’s shoulder and laughed along with him.
Amata blushed. She fingered one of the long beaded braids in her new black wig. “And I thought you said Keret was a gentleman,” Amata shot back.
“Maybe not a gentleman.” Sam smiled. “But he’s a great sculptor.” Sam glanced toward the workshop. “Why don’t you show Amata some of your work?”
Sam and Amata followed Keret into the workshop. Sam rubbed his nose as he breathed in the dusty, sharp smell of hammered stone mixed with the vinegar-like odor men’s sweat. Sam caught Amata eying Keret’s bare copper chest that rippled with muscles as Keret moved a heavy piece of limestone to the end of his wooden worktable and placed a small piece of calcite in its place.
“The Master Sculptor gave me this piece of calcite because it has a slight flaw.” Sam saw that Keret was carving an alabaster jar out of the piece of calcite. Sam had learned about different kinds of minerals, like calcite, when he and Balashi studied in the House of Scrolls. Sam found it fascinating that medicines could be extracted from certain kinds of rocks.
Sam fingered the stone. “Calcite’s found in limestone, right?”
Keret nodded. “How did you know that?”
“I read that Egyptian physicians use calcite to make a white powder to treat certain stomach pains, and that we can find it in limestone.”'
Keret pointed to a spot where the alabaster jar had a thin crack. “Here’s where the calcite is flawed, but I knew I could still make something beautiful out of it. When I’m finished,” he’d lowered his voice, “I want to give the jar to Princess Miut as a present.”
Amata touched the unfinished rim of the jar. “Princess Miut could use a new alabaster jar. She has more makeup and perfumes than she has containers to put them in.”
Keret looked up. “Have you met her?”
“Yes.” Amana nodded. “I visit their Memphis palace almost every afternoon.”
Keret picked up the small jar with his large hand. “Good. Then maybe you can give this to Princess Miut when I’ done.”
Amata smiled. “I would be delighted. I think she’ll love it. I know I would.”
Just then a broad, bare-chested Egyptian wearing a white linen cloth around his waist entered the workshop. “Keret,” the large man said in a deep voice. “It’s time to get back to work."
Keret looked again at Amata. “Come back in two weeks and I’ll have this finished.”
“Then I’ll see you in two weeks.” Amata fingered one of her braids again and lowered her eyes.