Some time ago we announced the formation of our production company, Sigil House Productions. Now, just in time for Kickstarter’s annual witchy promotions for the month of October, we’re announcing our plans for a pick-your-path book written by Pagans, for Pagan children (and children at heart).
Our first book, The Secrets of the Library of Alexandria, follows three children in ancient Egypt as they attempt to prove the innocence of a parent framed for a crime and recover the stolen catalogue of the library’s illustrious contents. Readers will have a chance to uncover mysteries and protect the library through various choices, arriving at one of at least fifteen unique endings.
To give our readers a taste of what’s in store, we’ve prepared this special teaser for you! Please enjoy Pagan Pathways: The Secrets of the Library of Alexandria, and please consider supporting us and sharing our Kickstarter!
~ One ~
On the Mediterranean Coast of Egypt
In the third century before the common era
Nefrina paced under the shadows cast by the tall pillars and the high portico roof. Back and forth, back and forth.
He was late. Again.
Nefrina paused, shielding her eyes with one hand as she stepped out of the shade and into the early morning light. The God of the Sun had barely begun his journey across the heavens, and it was already hot and bright — and from here, she had an excellent view of the city. The great columns and massive stone buildings; the thriving markets filled with fruits and grains and perfume; the artists’ stalls shimmering with gold and jewelry; the street shrines to Isis and Serapis and Hathor; the wagons and donkeys loaded down with bread and pottery and bolts of colorful cloth; and the crowded boulevards packed with merchants and nobles and even travelers from the far side of the world.
Alexandria. Jewel of the Mediterranean. Home to Gods and Pharaohs, scholars and priests. The city of a thousand temples and ten thousand secrets.
And she was helping one of the greatest scholars of all uncover some of those secrets.
Her smile twisted, looping down into a scowl of frustration.
Well, she and Taimhotep and Harsiesi. But Harsiesi was late — again.
A group of students made their way past her, up the stairs and through the double front doors of the Library. The guards stationed to either side of the entrance barely gave the students a glance. The students were dressed in the fine robes and sandals of noble and wealthy merchant families, with gold on their wrists and hanging from their ears and around their necks. Some were older than her, some her age — and they were all boys, of course.
Yes, indeed. They got to study with some of the wisest and most learned philosophers and mathematicians and poets in the whole of the world. Girls Nefrina’s age, on the other hand, were busy taking care of younger siblings or following their mothers through the market or working out in the fields under the ever-hotter sun.
But not Nefrina. She understood how fortunate she was: running free through the Library, chasing down books for Head Librarian Callimachus, eavesdropping on lectures, eating in the great dining hall, wandering the gardens; even smuggling scrolls into her room to read at night.
A life of learning and adventure.
She loved every moment of it.
And she would never, ever allow anything to threaten or change that.
Ah. There. Was that him?
Nefrina squinted, jumping down another half-a-dozen steps, the stones warm under her bare feet. A wagon filled with stacks of heavy stone blocks rumbled slowly past her, the driver sweating in the sun. Then a pair of donkeys carrying skins of water and wine. Then another wagon with even more stone blocks, all headed around to the back side of the Museum. Even over the noise of the street — people shouting, chickens squawking, dogs barking, pots breaking here and there, donkeys running amok — she could hear the hammers and thuds of the newest wing being added to the Library.
And then finally Harsiesi, in a beautiful litter carried by two slaves. The open sides of the litter were covered by silken drapes; thick enough to keep out most of the bugs and dirt, but thin enough to let in light and whatever breeze might blow in from the Mediterranean.
Nefrina crossed her arms and opened her mouth.
“I know,” Harsiesi interrupted. The two slaves gently lowered the litter and he pushed aside the curtain to smile apologetically. “I’m late. Not my fault, this time. Mother sent me a very long letter, and I had to write up a detailed response to send home before I could come in today.”
“Hmph.” Nefrina turned and started back up the steps. “Come on. I’m sure that Head Librarian Callimachus is already wondering where we are, and we still need to track down Taimhotep.”
She heard the door of the litter open. A moment later, Harsiesi ran up to her side, his sandals slapping against the carved stone. “I believe he’s studying with Master Apollonius this morning.”
“Oh, dear,” Nefrina murmured. “We’ll never be able to drag him away.”
Harsiesi grinned as they stepped into the shade of the pillars and the high portico roof. “Indeed. Master Apollonius has been hard at work on his epic poem. Yesterday he had me hunt down geographies of the Bosporus, so he must be composing the section in which the Argo passes between the Clashing Rocks.”
Nefrina groaned. “He won’t want to leave.”
Harsiesi chuckled, then stopped, his head tipped back. He stared up and up and up, to the carvings high above the door. In the center stood reliefs of Serapis and Isis, the God with his scepter and three-headed hound, the Goddess with her ankh and her infant son. Other Gods and Goddesses flanked them to either side: bird-beaked Thoth, Seshat with her scroll and quill, crocodile-headed Sobek, and the nine Muses. Even great Alexander, founder of the city, and Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who had laid the first stones of the Library.
Beneath the relief of the Gods, directly above the door, were carved the words Psychés Iatreíon.
“The place of the cure of the soul,” Harsiesi whispered.
“You do this every time.”
“Yes. I think it is important to remember what this place is, and why it is being built. Out there is noise and chaos and greed. In here is quiet and calm and wisdom.”
They stepped through the double doors, past the guards, and continued down the wide hallway. The floors here were a swirling blue-green marble and the walls were shining white stone. Doorways to either side opened onto a variety of rooms. Some were filed with scrolls, the walls thick with shelves. In another, Master Theocritus sat quietly, scribbling away, a half-eaten loaf of bread and chunk of cheese on a plate next to his elbow; he would probably knock it to the floor again. In another room, a visiting scholar was giving a lecture on mathematics, and in still another a group of students were arguing quite fervently over the accuracy of Homer’s account of the Trojan War. Slaves and servants trotted up and down the corridors, some carrying scrolls and books, others with platters of food or pitchers of water and wine. There were more guards, too, some positioned at doorways, others marching singly or in pairs.
Nefrina had to skip to keep up with Harsiesi.
The Library was a place of wisdom, yes, but she would never describe it as quiet or calm.
As they rounded a corner, a loud voice echoed down the hallway.
“Then a vaulted billow rushed upon them, and the ship like a cylinder ran on the furious wave plunging through the hollow sea. And the eddying current held her between the clashing rocks; and on each side they shook and thundered; and the ship’s timbers were held fast. Then Athena with her left hand thrust back one mighty rock and with her right pushed the ship through; and she, like a winged arrow, sped through the air.”
Nefrina leaned around the edge of the open door, Harsiesi scooting up close behind her.
They could hear Master Apollonius, but they couldn’t see him. The room was too crowded. Students old and young filled the space, shoved right up against the walls. A few had found chairs; most stood. While some were nodding along or appeared pleased, others were scowling or whispering to one another.
Not everyone appreciated Master Apollonius’ work.
Harsiesi tapped her shoulder and pointed to the far side of the room.
Nefrina stood on her tiptoes, but could see nothing but more finely dressed students. She jumped, and caught a quick peek of the top of Taimhotep’s head.
“Wait here,” she whispered to Harsiesi and slipped through the door.
Twisting and turning, squeezing and sidling, she made her way across the room. She slipped around one person, dodged around another, eased between two other students who were too busy snickering to notice her. Master Apollonius’ voice continued to rise and fall, narrating the Argo’s treacherous passage between the Clashing Rocks. For a moment, Nefrina imagined herself as the heroine of a great adventure, evading monsters and angry spirits.
Finally, she reached Taimhotep. He was perched on the edge of his stool, eyes fixed on the poet at the front of the room.
She poked his shoulder and whispered his name. “Taimhotep.”
Another poke, harder this time. Taimhotep twitched and finally turned to look at her. He blinked a few times, frowning in confusion when she waved him towards the door.
“What? What do you want?”
“We need to go. Head Librarian —”
“What seems to be the matter, Taimhotep?”
Nefrina froze, then looked up.
Master Apollonius had stopped, his lips pursed in annoyance. The gathered students were watching them, some amused, others aggravated at the interruption.
“Uh.” Taimhotep slowly stood. “Apologies, Master Apollonius.”
Nefrina squared her shoulders. “I have been sent to fetch, Taimhotep, sir. Head Librarian Callimachus is expecting us.”
Apollonius rolled his eyes. “Ah, yes, of course. One mustn’t keep the great Callimachus waiting. Be off with you then.” He waved his hand dismissively.
Taimhotep opened his mouth as if he was about to protest, but Nefrina grabbed his sleeve and gave it a sharp tug. She tilted her head towards the door, where she caught a glimpse of Harsiesi peeking around the frame.
Some of the students were openly snickering now.
“Go!” Apollonius waved his hand again, pointing towards the exit.
His head hanging, Taimhotep followed Nefrina to the door. Behind them, Apollonius began again. “Nevertheless the rocks, ceaselessly clashing, shore off as she passed the extreme end of the stern-ornament. But Athena soared up to Olympus ….”
Nefrina continued down the corridor and around a corner. She could hear Taimhotep and Harsiesi following.
“Why did you do that?” Taimhotep hissed. “That was embarrassing!”
Around another corner, passing the great dining hall and the kitchen. Then down a narrow corridor. The sounds of construction were louder. Nefrina pushed open a door and they entered a covered walkway. To one side lay the Museum’s gardens: trees and shrubs of every color and scent and size, some medicinal, some culinary, some poisonous. To the other lay a wide open space filled with stacks of stone blocks and sheets of marble and piles of wooden beams. Masons and carpenters hacked and sawed and hammered, and the air was heavy with stone dust and wood particles and the shouts of the workers.
“Nefrina!” Taimhotep snapped.
“I wouldn’t bother,” Harsiesi said. “She’s very impatient this morning.”
“That’s because Head Librarian Callimachus has something special planned for us today. And you two are making us late!”
“Special?” Harsiesi’s eyebrows jumped. “What do you mean by special?”
Nefrina pushed open the door at the end of the walkway and they entered another corridor. At the far end stood a heavy wooden door, beautifully carved with an image of Thoth and Seshat seated on their thrones.
Nefrina paused in front of the door. She could hear voices on the other side.
“I’m not going to tell you. You’ll just have to find out for yourselves.”
She pressed her hand to the carved wood. Without knocking, she shoved the door open —
— and stumbled to a halt, confusion nearly making her trip. Behind her, she heard Taimhotep and Harsiesi gasp in surprise.