Up from the river again, this time with shiver of cold and hold on Maftet, who quickly threw over me thick shawl to guard from squall in this barren, rugged land of dearth and famine. But here was where? I wondered against tear of fierce wind that seemed to pierce even through heavy cloth like swath made by cruel, icy scythe, so deadly and I so unsteady on my feet and knees, about to freeze.
I saw Maftet stoop for one then the other foot to slip on boot, lushly soft and warm against the storm with treacherous blow of snow. And then she girdled me with kilt like thick quilt out of nothing, but something. From where thick shawl, soft but rugged boots, and quilted kilt? Did she knit from whit of snow? Ah, but I would never know! I was warm, anyway, so why complain; Maftet made the pain of biting cold leave without reprieve.
“So prettily dressed now!” She laughed. “I’m impressed, if I do say so myself, but keep close by my side, precious bride; you’ll get lost in the frost.” Maftet smiled and winked at her trinket. “And, of course, you want to know where we are? Not far from where we were; look there! The river still flows below ice so nicely packed on surface. Careful in your pace, and we’ll cross the space to the other side to make our stride forth to the north.”
I dared not ask why north as we made our way that day along her chosen path alongside the frozen Nile.
“Much-spilled blood brought flood; excessive vice brought ice,” she intoned in manner that chilled me to the bone. So this is the age of ice? But what to see here in world of fear? Or learn in burn of frozen wind and churn of snow above and below? “Not far now and you’ll spy the tower high; built toward heaven for eleven years with sweat and tears and curses that reached the ears of Dyēus.”
“Babel in Bubastis, yes,” she smiled and licked her lips, pulling at my hips. “Yes … confused and frozen for the ill-chosen, my love. Judgment from above to lay low the billow of Şeytan; to cleanse the rash of brash ddiafol with lash of wind; to bend down dæmonic pride and keep humanity in stride with humility and gracious tranquility.” Maftet pulled me tight. “You’re fright is right, but don’t fight the feeling, or you’re sealing your own fate; do not sedate yourself to what awaits.” She kissed my eyes to make me wise … or at least to loose the ties of lies. How could I know? I only returned the kiss below her neck, between her breasts in willing obeisance.
“So the tower was built in Bubastis? Not by the rabble of Babel?”
“Conflation of stories, my dear; the dilation of one and inhalation of the other. Not strange across the range of time, but first Bubastis!” She burst into laughter. “Then the tower built for power by the unmeek weak… Don’t you think?” She nodded then and prodded me forward. At her insistence I looked in the distance, and there lay crystalline city in beclouded day, sinister in this endless winter. And tower tall, unfinished, unblemished yet ready to fall.
“Bast built this city, named for herself in pity, and all for tall tower after she was cast forth from what some call the halls of Valhalla.” Heaven? Another smile, sideway glance to lance my spirit. “Yes and no, my love; but one of the heavens low. There is more than one, you know. Or do you now forget even what you knew before you blew into that room of gloom … before I craved and saved you?” Light laughter from my master.
“So she thought to bridge the gap twixt ridge of earth and low-heaven?”
“And bought the souls of cast and crew to do her bidding in building city and tower so high to sky, yes. But what is built so falsely is so easily blundered and torn asunder. Besides, lies always lead to profusion of confusion; is it any wonder, then, there are so many tongues flung throughout the earth, languages old and young? Breakdown in communication between kingdom and nation and every station of humanity? Even the least beast can better commune than man!”
“Can we explore and see more?”
“No!” Maftet wildly shook her head with look of dread. “Never here, not now; not even to walk through open gate to satiate curiosity. “No, my love. This is but a frozen cove of evil, where dæmons rove after God drove them, too, from the halls of Valhalla. And long will it be ere they wind their way elsewhere to roam and find some other home. But now, in this time, there is only chime of hell in distant city, resistant to all good and fair and mild, my child.”
“Then why are we here in this place so drear?” I burst in anger despite the danger. But Maftet only embraced and interlaced me with arms and legs, and wept as she kept me in her hold.
“As it has been told, this is the mold of your misery in the history of humanity. You have to see what some have become; I’m showing you the fissions and divisions that cause so much pain. Isn’t that plain enough, my love? This ice will melt and Spring will come and bring new life … but for how long? Does goodness belong in this world, and the angels’ song? We shall see, won’t we?”