The water jug in his arms was an item of considerable value to his impoverished house, and he dashed it to the ground at his feet, a ruin.
He reached for the tiny amulet hanging around his neck, fumbling like a man who’d lost the proper use of his hands. It was a flat disc no bigger than the iris of Asha’s eye, crudely etched with powerful commands and strung by a thin fishgrass cord. It was, in fact, armor stolen from an unlucky umbrella-shell slug that once crept along the bottom of the Great Green, and how it had come to rest in Bibleb-Akhet he neither knew, nor, at that moment, cared. Seizing the charm tightly in one fist, he struck himself in the mouth much harder than magically necessary, and certainly harder than he’d intended.
“Bibleb eats the storm. The body of the storm is the strength of Bibleb. Behold, the storm is consumed. Bibleb eats the storm.”
He raced back to Asha, slung her beneath one arm and, as she hollered her objections, raced up the trail toward Bibleb-Akhet, shouting as he ran.
“Storm! Storm!” he screamed, through the gathering winds. By the time he reached the village Osiris had disappeared completely behind a veil of blown dust and sand. Already well aware of the descending peril, the villagers were dashing about collecting their animals, herding them inside their tiny huts, and frantically muttering “Bibleb eats the storm, Bibleb eats the storm…” Bib-useka raced to his own dwelling, flung aside the heavy fish-grass mat that was its door, and stepped into the cramped, windowless interior. By the flickering light of a single oil lamp, he could see that his wife, Tinet, was exactly where he’d left her – laying upon a thin blanket upon the packed-earth floor, her small, calloused hands folded over the great mound of her pregnant belly, her legs spread wide apart and her dark eyes round with fear. He set Asha down atop a pile of loose fish-grass against the back wall, and was momentarily horrified to see wet blood spattered on her face and arms.
“What happened, Asha?” he demanded. “Where are you hurt?”
Alarmed by her father’s tone, Asha-shen merely started crying and pointing at his chest, which is when Bib-useka became aware that his energetic prayer in the desert had cracked open his lip, resulting in the bloody cascade that now covered him from chin to sandals. Sighing with relief, he turned away from his disconsolate daughter and knelt beside Tinet.
“It’s a storm?” she asked. There was a hint of panic in her voice, but only a hint.
“It’s a storm.”
“Where’s the water?”
“We’ll have to make do with what we have.”
Tinet gasped as a strong contraction gripped her.
“Nopet isn’t here yet,” she panted. “She’s supposed to midwife. Did you see her?”
“No, but Nopet won’t be coming,” Bib-useka said, trying to sound relaxed and confident. “Don’t worry. I know what to do.”
“This child is not a goat,” Tinet said. “I want Nopet.”
“Nopet will have her own troubles just now. We’ll be alright.”
Tinet’s labors lasted all that night, and all the next day, and for all of the two days after. Every hour, it seemed to Bib-useka, the storm increased in anger and doubled in violence. A slight, but steady rain of grit sifted into the gloomy hut through the small smoke-hole in its roof. He lit incense before the household’s shrine to Bibleb, enticing the god to ease Tinet’s labors. The aromatic resin – a costly commodity Bib-useka had sacrificed much to acquire and now burned with desperate profligacy – added its fragrant vapors to the dense pall of oil lamp fumes until the room’s atmosphere could almost be felt with the fingertips.
Every so often Tinet screamed in pain. When she did, Asha screamed in sympathetic alarm. Each time they screamed, Bib-useka’s heart exploded within his chest. He was frequently tempted to step outside and gather his composure, but he knew without looking that he would find no relief under the storm’s gritty lash.
Fact was, despite the hut’s thick mud-brick walls, little of the screaming could be heard against the howling gale and the sinister hissing of high-velocity sand. In theory, at least, humble Egyptian “beehive” houses were proof against sandstorms, but more than one in Bibleb-Akhet’s history had collapsed under the onslaught of a Lybian storm, and that would spell disaster for his wife and daughter and unborn child. They rationed their water, ate sparingly, recited spells over their charms and prayed to Bibleb.
Just before the fourth dawn, on the twelfth day of Drought, in the sixth year of the blessed reign of Pharoah Amenhotep III, Great Spear and Shield of the Two Lands, Tinet gave birth to a boy. He appeared to be healthy and whole, and flailed his arms and legs with proper energy, and gave every indication of wailing satisfactorily, although it was impossible to be certain within the terrible din. Bib-useka swabbed his first-born son with the cleanest scrap of linen he could find, tied off his umbilical cord with a fragment of fish-grass twine, and gently placed him at his wife’s breast. Then he collapsed and lay for a long time as still and senseless as a corpse.
The storm blew itself out that morning. The winds died as quickly as they’d risen, leaving deafening silence and enormous drifts of sand in their wake. The gods of Lybia had said their piece and could do no more. The Children of Bibleb emerged from their homes to survey the damage and locate the carcasses of livestock left outside and killed by the storm. The unhappy creatures would need to be butchered before the flesh became too rotten to eat. If their loss was a heavy blow to their owners, at least the village would eat well for a few weeks.
Knowing that Tinet had been due, a neighbor thought to look in on the little family. He kicked away a low drift of sand, tossed off a friendly Opening-of-the-Door chant and swung the mat aside, allowing a flood of fresh air and sunlight to enter the stifling room.
“Congratulations,” he smiled. “Looks like you have a son.”
“Bibleb is great,” said Bib-useka, moving nothing but his lips.
“What’s his name?”
Long custom dictated that males of Bib-useka’s line be named to increase the glory of their god and indicate the possessor’s fervent devotion to Bibleb. Bib-useka, whose name meant “Bibleb’s Ox”, merely gave an almost imperceptible shrug and tiredly rolled his eyes toward Tinet. His wife opened her eyes, looked at the baby in her arms, and them closed them again.
“His name is Djamose,” she whispered. “The Storm Gave Birth to Him’.”