The farmer toiled every day in his fields, sweating and laboring to bring forth his master’s crops from the rich muck of the Nile floodplain. But from where he toiled, the great Pharaoh’s compound was visible across the river. At dawn and at dusk, glittering across the river, the farmer could see the lights. When the winds were right, he could hear the singing of the priests and the shouted ablutions offered up to Osiris and Ra.

Local priests kept the farmer and his fellows well informed as to what the Pharaoh meant, a living link to the gods. But the farmer came to think, in time, that he knew the gods as well as anyone did. Perhaps they would deign to accept a substitute to speak to, and incidentally to offer a life of leisure with honeyed wines.

So one night, when the moon was full, the farmer swam the Nile to reach the palace. With him, on his back, he carried a feral cat from the fields, a fine mouser who had earned the respect of those whose grain she saved. With the cat as his sacred guide, the farmer sought to enter the palace and speak to the gods, begging them to at least let him attempt the role of a pharaoh himself. Other than the clothes on his back, he carried nothing else but a small knife for emergencies.

The compound was not strongly held, with the few guards easily avoided by one who had years to practice hiding in darkened fields. Perhaps, the farmer thought, the Pharaoh relied entirely too much on his people’s worship to keep him safe. In the vast pools of darkness between the few lit oil lamps inside, the farmer was able to find his way to what he reckoned to be the royal chamber. There, he began to make his ablutions and obeisances, imploring any god who would listen. Ra, Osiris, even forgotten Aten were all beseeched in turn, but their answers were only insect song and frogs along the river.

When a shape approached in the dark, roused perhaps by the farmer’s devotions, instinct took over. The knife glinted in reflected moonlight, and the shape fell to the floor, gurgling its last. When the guards came, drawn by a startled cry, they found the farmer standing over the Pharaoh with a dripping knife and a cat slung over his back.

Naturally, he was struck down at once. But the high priest, noting the presence of an auspicious cat with the assassin, decreed that both the farmer and his feline companion be mummified, to be buried with the Pharaoh and to serve him eternally in the hereafter as penance. The new Pharaoh, desiring an auspicious start and no questions about the light guard his father had been assigned, went along with the plan. The farmer was duly embalmed, as was his field cat, and placed in the Pharaoh’s burial chamber.

Not long after, grave robbers who had helped to build the tomb arrived and dug it up, plundering the riches that had been laid to rest with their dead king. Unable to separate the Pharaoh’s mummy from his jewels, they simply took the body with them to be dismembered and burned at their leisure. They left the crypt in disarray, leaving the farmer’s body contemptuously untouched, for it had no jewels or adornments.

And that is how, centuries later, the body of the humble farmer came to be displayed in a great and famous museum under the name of the pharaoh he had accidentally slain. His prayers to Osiris, Ra, and Aten had not gone unheard, it seemed. Rather, they had been answered with the patience and subtlety only very old gods can muster.

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