The Lost Scroll of the Physician
The Lost Scroll of the Physician
"Do you think Pharaoh knows we're alive?" Ky asks for the dozenth time, leaning back against crumbling sunbaked brick, tossing the plum high up in the air then catching it, over and over again.
"I imagine he might have come to that conclusion," I say, adding a few twigs to our small fire, "seeing as how our bodies were never found."
We have made our way back to our nightly refuge: an abandoned storage hut, thatched roof half fallen in, three decrepit walls. We face the missing fourth, which -- while breezy -- allows for a wondrous view of the palace rising up in the night. It feels like a life ago that we were once free to roam its halls. I was a different person then.
"And you really think he ordered Father to be killed?" His voice catches, tripping over far too much anguish for a boy his age. He misses the plum and it falls to the earth with a splat. The dog looks up.
"I'm not sure," I say, permanently filled with despair at the thought of my father's friend being capable of such betrayal. But how else to explain what I saw that night? Guards fleeing from the house, right after the blaze broke out. Guards bearing the pharaoh's personal crest. Shuddering, I shake my head to rid myself of the awful memories. "It may have been just a terrible coincidence."
Yet something whispers in my ear that it was not. Still, I have no evidence, no proof, and even if I did, what can I do? All I can do is keep my brother safe and out of Pharaoh's vast reach, on the chance that he did have something to do with that night's events. Not an easy task.
Sesha, 13, learned a lot from her father before both her parents were killed in a mysterious fire that consumed the house where they were sleeping. She and her younger brother Ky were on the roof and escaped the fire, but her fear that it had been deliberately set kept her from seeking help from Pharoah in spite of her father's having been his friend and Chief Scribe (which, in the time of the Second Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt, meant chief physician). Under her father’s instruction, Sesha was well on the way to becoming a scribe/physician herself, and she had learned how to charm snakes so that, after the fire, the two had run away, lived rough, stole food, or Ky did the stealing while Sesha distracted the market's food venders with her mesmerized cobra.
When Ky was caught stealing, however, their only recourse was to return to the palace and appeal to Pharoah and hope to discover why it was that their father would have been killed. Could it have been the transcription of a medical scroll -- a manual of military surgery written by the great Imhotep 1500 years earlier? Sesha’s father had been very excited about it: not only did it detail treatments for all manner of battle wounds, but it also outlined a surgery that would treat a condition from which Ky suffered! However, the scroll has disappeared, and Pharaoh, who wants this manual because of looming warfare with the Hyksos invaders in the north, makes it a condition of Sesha's and Ky's returning to palace life and Sesha’s being allowed to continue to study in the temple that Sesha search for, and give him, the scroll when she finds it.
Sesha and a couple of other student scribes do manage to find the scroll, and she finishes the transcription, only to discover that it was the Pharaoh's chief consort who had organized the murder of her parents because Queen Amat, who felt that spells and incantations should be the main treatment for diseases, regarded the scientific treatment of disease, as advocated by Imhotep and seconded by Sesha's father, to be blasphemy to the gods. She, therefore, did not want Pharoah to obtain the scroll, nor did she want any of the ancient treasures to be squandered on paying for a war. Queen Amat, especially, did not want Sesha to finish her father's work! And she has palace guards at her command who are prepared to kill on her orders to make sure that what she wants happens.
Sesha manages to complete enough of the transcription that Ky's operation can take place, apparently successfully, but, if she wants to survive, she has to run away again, this time leaving Ky behind. With this real cliff-hanger, readers are left, wondering what is coming next. However, amidst all this intrigue and excitement of The Lost Scroll of the Physician, Sevigny inserts fascinating details of palace life, of the significance of the annual flooding of the Nile, of the gods who govern all aspects of life and death, even a ritual hippo hunt and nice yucky descriptions of the embalming process!
There is a lot crammed into this book! A good story, strong characters, and plenty of action, as well as very interesting background. I can hardly do better for an assessment than to quote my granddaughter with whom I shared the book. She said, "Gran, it's AMAZING!" and "I am serious here. It is one of the ONLY books about ancient Egypt or Rome or wherever that does not have A SINGLE mistake in it about the myths." So there you have it: at least one member of The Lost Scroll of the Physician’s intended audience was enthralled. I liked it too, albeit with fewer exclamation points, and the fact that I have the second book of the series, The Desert Prince to go on to immediately means that the cliff-hanger of an ending is less a drawback than it might have been. I can get right on with the story. But if you're getting The Lost Scroll of the Physician for someone you love – well, you'd better buy both books!
Mary Thomas lives half the year in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one-quarter in Ontario, and one-quarter in England, works occasionally in libraries, and knows much less about the ancient world than her granddaughter.