There is a story.
Kemet and Kush are fractious lovers. They lie there together, at the water’s edge, on a rich blanket of midnight. Kemet watches the River Khem, and dangles one toe in the water lazily. Kush looks to Kemet, her soulful bister eyes deep with emotion. Kemet glances back at her and props his strong body up on one arm, his coffee skin bronzing in the midday sun.
He asks, “Why do we never get along?”
“Because you try to command me,” she says, a sense of defiance in her voice, “and I always refuse.”
“But in our hearts we always return to each other.”
“Yes, because you are strong, and I am wise, and we need each other.”
Kemet laughs, a hearty, raucous laugh. He kisses Kush on the forehead, her mahogany skin soft beneath his lips.
“What news do you have for me this day, my love?” he asks of her.
She strokes her bare belly. “I am with child, a willful and wild son of the desert.”
Kemet smiles, and then frowns.
“He will face many hardships.”
Kush gazes at her belly.
“I will bathe him in blood and honey and oil, and he will be cleansed in the waters of the River. He will feast on the barley and the emmer, the food of our peoples. I will teach him obeisance to Ra and Horus and Osiris, and you will instruct him in the ways of the Scarab. With him will go the jackals and crocodiles to forever be by his side.”
Kush looks up at Kemet again.
“Do not worry, my love. Our son is strong. May he always be so.”
It’s an allegory, Hafsah tells me. She sits there on my lap, playing with her hair and taking long pulls off a hookah on the table. She was expensive, not like all the other hensattis in this particular watering hole. I didn’t want to bed the woman. I just needed company. I’ve been in the desert a long time. It would be … improper of me to do so anyway. Scarabs aren’t meant to get friendly with the locals. It’s not our job. We’re the law, so we have to be impartial.
Hafsah fingers the golden scarab badge on my chest. A glance from me and she stops. She knows better than to mess with the symbol of a lawman’s authority.
It’s an allegory. Kemet, the pragmatic northern nation that hugs the western shore of the River Khem, gets portrayed as a strong male because Kemet’s always been the aggressor. Kush, the southern nation on the eastern bank of the Khem, is known as an intellectual powerhouse, but as an armed nation its not particularly strong. For hundreds of years, maybe over a thousand, Kemet and Kush have alternately warred and allied, fought and made up. Fractious lovers.
The door to the bar swings open, and the hot desert air sweeps in, bringing scents and sounds from the souq beyond. It’s him. Banoub, the Scarab-turned-outlaw. The man who wants my head.
Kemet and Kush are at peace now, brought together by the gods as a lasting union. The last war was pretty awful. It’s the first time that they’ve really had full armies go at each other, guns blazing. I saw action fighting for Kush, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the color of my skin. That was a while ago, though. Now, I’m a lawman in the new western frontier. A Scarab, they call us, because of the badge we wear. We’re technically appointed by the temples, which is why you get Scarabs who sometimes have silver badges, or obsidian badges, or whatever. Different temples, different gods, same job. You make your glyph on the papers, you get issued your badge and your Khepet .45, and off you go.
He stands there, unmoving. Nobody says anything. A little nudge and Hafsah is off my lap. My hand drifts down to my side, but I don’t get up. My other hand goes to the hookah on the table. He waits a moment, and then the moment he steps down into the bar, I’m up. He dodges the hookah, and it smashes black water on the far wall. One of the hensattis screams. He reaches. I reach. We draw.
A long, long time ago, the bedouins lived out here. We drove them off thinking we could civilize the place. It helps that they found gold out here too. Places back east didn’t have much. Kemet’s got this reputation for having a lot, but that’s the wonders of recent memory. It all came from out here. Sometimes, you get a joker who thinks he can throw his weight around and rule from the barrel of a Khepet, but it’s all because of gold. It always is.
The smell of gunsmoke fills the air. There’s a second or two before I realize what’s happened. Hafsah grabs me and pats me down. I have one less hole than the other guy. He’s slumped back in the doorway to the bar. I walk over and give him a nudge with my boot. He doesn’t move. I walk back over to the table and grab my hat. I reach into my pocket and pull out a roll of temple notes. I peel off a note for Hafsah and stuff the roll back in my pocket. I grab my hat. You can never forget your hat.
Sometimes you have to work with other Scarabs. It’s a necessity out here. Bandits and outlaws form gangs, so we need to as well. Sometimes we need to pick up a bedouin guide, and that’s okay. Sometimes they don’t speak the language, but they understand barley beer well enough. Sometimes we have to pull in an academic from Kush or some kind of city-type from Kemet. That’s okay too. If they can handle a gun and a horse, we can deputize them, make them ‘Little Scarabs’ as we call them (‘bugs’ if you don’t like us). It’s a hard life, and dangerous too. But it’s worth it.
I tear down the WANTED papyrus of Banoub from the wall before I leave.