Mahu’s Tale

by Bill Cox


When I was young, in my twelfth year, my father sent me north to Memphis to lodge with my Uncle, to apprentice at his side. It was a long journey by caravan from Nubia, walking through the desert, side by side with camels laden with salt and spices. At that impressionable age the desert spoke to me, to my soul. The rhythm of those days, walking in the cool mornings, seeking the shade of a palm tree at noon. I still remember the campfire songs of those nights!

My uncle was a stonemason, and I studied under him. Soon I surpassed him. I had a gift for sculpture, for carving stone. My reputation grew to the point where I was summoned to the palace. In the presence of Pharaoh Thutmosis III I lay prostate, listening to the words of his High Priest, as he commissioned me to create a colossus, the likes of which men had never seen before.

Of course, what could I do but accept! I was given leave to gaze upon the countenance of Pharaoh so that I could reproduce his likeness in stone. Let me tell you, it was a visage unlike any I had seen. In my memory I stored every detail. It was a stern countenance, the face of a man used to unquestioning obedience. In it I saw no sign of pity or empathy. It was like looking into the features of a hawk, a predator. One did not wish to hold its gaze for fear of becoming its prey!

The next three years were the happiest of my life, as I created my masterpiece. Returning to the royal palace on its completion, I was again met by Pharaoh on his throne, flanked by his High Priest.

“You have done well, stonemason, and as promised you will be well rewarded,” said the High Priest.

“However, the glory of Pharaoh must never be surpassed. It is the wish of the divine Thutmosis that your creative gift never be put to use by another. To ensure this, your hands must be removed.”

I was too dumbfounded to react, and the guards escorted me away without any resistance on my part. Even as the sword severed my two hands at the wrist, I could not believe what was happening. My wounds were quickly cauterised with a hot iron, and finally I passed out.

I received great wealth from Pharaoh, but at an even greater price. I lost my creative soul and found myself sinking into a black depression for several years. The gods, however, saw fit to give me a moment of clarity in my melancholy. I was reminded of those days in the desert early in my life, of how uplifting I found them.

So I left my wealth behind and now ply the desert trade routes, living simply, with the Fennec and Scarab Beetle as my companions. Now and again my wanderings take me close to Memphis and sometimes I see that colossus on the horizon. I do not hold its gaze however, turning my face instead to the vastness of the shifting dunes, which I know will outlast the vanity of man.


Inspired by Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”

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