Behold me then returned to Thebai! So scarred and altered was I, though not yet thirty years of age, that they knew me not. So I offered myself as a serving-man in the temple of Osiris, and I pleased the priests mightily, for by my magic power — though they thought it to be natural — I sang songs unto the god, and made hymns. Therefore in less than a year they began to speak of initiating me into the priesthood. Now the High Priest at this time was a young and vigorous man, black-bearded in the fashion of Osiris, with a single square tuft beneath the chin. Him had they chosen after my departure in the whirlwind. And the High Priestess was a woman of forty and two years old, both dark and beautiful, with flashing eyes and stern lips. Yet her body was slim and lithe like that of a young girl. Now, as it chanced, it was my turn to serve her with the funeral offerings; flesh of oxen and of geese, bread, and wine. And as she ate she spake with me; for she could see by her art that I was not a common serving-man. Then I took out the consecrated Wand of Khem that I had from my father; and I placed it in her hand. At that she wondered, for that Wand is the sign of a great and holy initiation: so rare that (as they say) no woman but one has ever attained unto it. Then she blessed herself that she had been permitted to look upon it, and prayed me to keep silence for a little while, for she had somewhat in her mind to do. And I lifted up the wand upon her in the nine-and-forty-fold benediction, and she received illumination thereof, and rejoiced. Then I fell at her feet — for she was the High Priestess — and kissed them reverently, and withdrew.
Then three days afterwards, as I learnt, she sent for a priestess who was skilled in certain deadly crafts and asked of her a poison. And she gave it, saying: "Let the High Priest of the God of the dead go down to the dead!" Then that wicked High Priestess conveyed unto him subtly the poison in the sacraments themselves, and he died thereof. Then by her subtlety she caused a certain youth to be made high priest who was slovenly and stupid, thinking in herself "Surely the god will reject him." But at his word the Image of the god glowed as was its wont. And at that she knew — and we all knew — that the glory was departed; for that the priests had supplanted the right ceremony by some trick of deceit and craft.
Thereat was she mightily cast down, for though wicked and ambitious, she had yet much power and knowledge.
But instead of using that power and that knowledge she sought to oppose craft with craft. And suspecting (aright) whose cunning had done this thing she bribed him to reverse the machinery, so that the High Priest might be shamed. But shamed he was not; for he lied, saying that the God glowed brighter than the Sun; and he lied securely, for Maat the Lady of Truth had no place in that temple. To such foulness was all fallen by my first failure to assume the god-form, and their priestly falsehood that my sanctity had rapt me into heaven. Nor had the wealth they lied to obtain availed them aught; for Pharaoh had descended upon Thebai, and laid heavy hand upon the coffers of the temple, so that they were poor. Even, they sold good auguries for gold; and these were a very destruction to them that bought. Then they sold curses, and sowed discord in the city. Wherefore the people grew poorer still, and their gifts to the temple waxed even less.
For there is no foolishness like the hunger after gain.
Of old the gods had given blessing, and the people offered freely of their plenty.
Now the priests sowed chaff, and reaped but barrenness.
So I waited patiently in silence to see what might befall. And this foolish priestess could think of no better expedient than formerly. But this young stupid man had guessed how his predecessor was dead, and he touched not the sacraments; but feigned.
Then she called for me — and I was now ordained priest — to take counsel of me; for she was minded to put me in his place.
Thus she made a great banquet for me; and when we were well drunken she laid her head upon my breast and said marvellous things to me of love, to me, who had loved the Veiled One! But I feigned all the madness of passion and made her drunk thereon, so that she talked great words, frothing forth like dead fishes swollen in the sun, of how we should rule Thebai and (it might be) displace Pharaoh and take his throne and sceptre. Yet, foolish woman! she could not think how she might remove this stupid high priest, her own nominee! So I answered her "Assume the Form of Osiris, and all will be well in the Temple of Osiris." Mocking her, for I knew that she could not. Yet so drunken was she upon love and wine that there and then she performed the ritual of Adoration and Assumption.
Then I in merry mood put out my power, and caused her in truth to become Osiris, so that she went icy stark, and her eyes fixed. …
Then she tried to shriek with fear, and could not; for I had put upon her the silence of the tomb.
But all the while I feigned wonder and applause, so that she was utterly deceived. And being tired of mocking her, I bade her return. This she did, and knew not what to say. At first she pretended to have received a great secret; then, knowing how much higher was my grade initiation, dared not. Then, at last, being frightened, she flung herself at my feet and confessed all, pleading that at least her love for me was true. This may well have been; in any case I would have had compassion upon her, for in sooth her body was like a flower, white and pure, though her mouth was heavy and strong, her eyes wrinkled with lust, and her cheeks flaccid with deceit.
So I comforted her, pressing her soft body in mine arms, drinking the wine of her eyes, feeding upon the honey of her mouth.
Then at last I counselled her that she should bid him to a secret banquet, and that I should serve them, disguised in my old dress as a serving-man.
On the next night after this he came, and I served them, and she made open love (though feigned) to him. Yet subtly, so that he thought her the deer and himself the lion. Then at last he went clean mad, and said: "I will give thee what thou wilt for one kiss of that thy marvellous mouth." Then she made him swear the oath by Pharaoh — the which if he broke Pharaoh would have his head — and she kissed him once, as if her passion were like the passion of Nile in flood for the sandy bars that it devoureth, and then leaping up, answered him, "give me thine office of High Priest for this my lover!" With that she took and fondled me. He gaped, aghast; then he took off the ring of office and flung it at her feet; he spat one word in her face; he slunk away.
But I, picking up the ring of office, cried after him: "What shall be done to who insulteth the High Priestess?"
And he turned and answered sullenly: "I was the High Priest." "Thou hadst no longer the ring!" she raged at him, her face white with fury, her mouth dripping the foam of her anger — for the word was a vile word! …
Then she smote upon the bell, and the guard appeared. At her order they brought the instruments of death, and summoned the executioner, and left us there. Then the executioner bound him to the wheel of iron by his ankles and his waist and his throat; and he cut off his eyelids, that he might look upon his death. Then with his shears he cut off the lips from him, saying, "With these lips didst thou blaspheme the Holy One, the Bride of Osiris." Then one by one he wrenched out the teeth of him, saying every time: "With this tooth didst thou frame a blasphemy against the Holy One, the Bride of Osiris." Then he pulled out the tongue with his pincers, saying: "With this tongue didst thou speak blasphemy against the Holy One, the Bride of Osiris." Then took he a strong corrosive acid and blistered his throat therewith, saying: "From this throat didst thou blaspheme the Holy One, the Bride of Osiris." Then he took a rod of steel, white-hot, and burnt away his secret parts, saying: "Be thou put to shame, who hast blasphemed the Holy One, the Bride of Osiris." After that, he took a young jackal and gave it to eat at his liver, saying: "Let the beasts that devour carrion devour the liver that lifted itself up to blaspheme the Holy One, the Bride of Osiris!" With that the wretch died, and they exposed his body in the ditch of the city, and the dogs devoured it.
Now all this while had my lady dallied amorously with me, making such sweet moan of love as never was, yet her face fixed upon his eyes who loved her, and there glared in hell's torment, the body ever striving against the soul which should exceed.
And, as I judge, but the favour of Set the soul gat mastery therein.
Also, though I write it now, coldly, these many thousand years afterward, never had I such joy of love of any woman as with her, and at that hour, so that as I write it I remember well across the mist of time every honey word she spoke, every witching kiss (our mouths strained sideways) that she sucked from my fainting lips, every shudder of her soft strong body. I remember the jewelled coils of hair, how they stung like adders as they touched me; the sharp rapture of her pointed nails pressing me, now velvet-soft, now capricious-cruel, now (love-maddened) thrust deep to draw blood, as they played up and down my spine. But I saw nothing; by Osiris I swear it! I saw nothing, save only the glare in the eyes of that lost soul that writhed upon the wheel.
Indeed, as the hangman took out the corpse, we fell back and lay there among the waste of the banquet, the flagons overturned, the napery awry, the lamps extinct or spilt, the golden cups, chased with obscene images, thrown here and there, the meats hanging over the edge of their bejewelled dishes, their juice staining the white luxury of the linen; and in the midst ourselves, our limbs as careless as the wind, motionless.
One would have said: the end of the world is come. But through all that fiery abyss of sleep wherein I was plunged so deep, still stirred the cool delight of the knowledge that I had won the hand for which I played, that I was High Priest of Osiris in Thebai.
But in the morning we rose and loathed each other, our mouths awry, our tongues hanging loose from their corners like thirsty dogs, our eyes blinking in agony from the torture of daylight, our limbs sticky with stale sweat.
Therefore we rose and saluted each other in the dignity of our high offices; and we departed one from the other, and purified ourselves.
Then I went unto the Ceremony of Osiris, and for the last time the shameful farce was played.
But in my heart I vowed secretly to cleanse the temple of its chicanery and folly. Therefore at the end of the ceremony did I perform a mighty banishing, a banishing of all things mortal and immortal, even from Nuit that circleth infinite Space unto Hadit the Core of Things; from Amoun that ruleth before all the Gods unto Python the terrible Serpent that abideth at the end of things, from Ptah the god of the pure soul of aethyr unto Besz the brute force of that which is grosser than earth, which hath no name, which is denser than lead and more rigid than steel; which is blacker than the thick darkness of the abyss, yet is within all and about all.
Then during the day I took counsel with myself, and devised a cunning to match the cunning of them that had blasphemed Osiris, who had at last become my God.
Yea! bitterly would I avenge him on the morrow.