The tale of Weba-aner and the Crocodile, which Smenkh-ka-re tells Merit in the Great Audience Hall when everyone is asleep, is based on an actual Ancient Egyptian papyrus dating from a slightly later period than when the novel is set. And yet its inclusion in the book is quite authentic; the papyrus simply recounted a version of a story that had been knocking around Egypt for about two thousand years—which makes it approximately four thousand years old today. It really is a very, very old story.
Although something may have been lost in translation, the text I consulted for this re-telling appeared to give no particular reason for King Nebka to accompany the magician to his man-made lake, apart from bearing witness to the events which occurred there. This lack of internal causality may have been acceptable in ancient times but it’s not what we expect today. I needed to invent my own compelling reason, hence my one and only addition to the plot: the queen’s affair.
— EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 6 —
WEBA-ANER AND THE CROCODILE:
upon a time, many, many years ago, there lived a certain kherheb,
or magician, whose name was Weba-aner. The town where Weba-aner dwelt
had always been rich and prosperous because Weba-aner was the kind of
kherheb who could perform miracles. His greatest miracle by far
was the wondrous lake he’d created when, all around, the land was
suffering a dreadful drought. People in nearby villages barely had
enough to drink to stay alive, but all of Weba-aner’s friends and
neighbours were able to grow their crops and water their oxen;
indeed, many of them went bathing every single day!
When news of this miracle reached King Nebka’s ears, the king invited the kherheb to come and visit. For seven days and seven nights, the magician held the monarch spellbound in the royal palace with demonstrations of his supreme art. He made the king’s baby daughter disappear, then brought her back in a puff of smoke. He summoned up a jet of water from the slabs of the throne-room floor, then commanded it to move about at his bidding. He changed Nile water into wine—then swiftly turned it back again. So impressed was the king with what he had seen that, on the eighth day, he confided in the magician the real reason why he’d invited him there.
‘You can’t have helped but notice my extremely beautiful wife,’ he told the man. ‘I love her as the day is long, but I fear that my teenage nephew has also fallen for her charms. Though I have no proof, I am sure that the two of them are carrying on an affair behind my back. What am I to do? Is there not some kind of spell or incantation you could perform to keep my dear wife faithful to me?’
‘Why not simply have your nephew put to death?’ suggested Weba-aner with a grin.
‘I would if I could,’ replied the king, ‘but my sister would tear me limb from limb were I to touch so much as a hair on her precious boy’s head.’