Chapter Two – An Agony of Sunset
(introduction follows the text)
Seven Years Later
Far below, Rameses was angry; so angry that Lord Menascare could hear the merciless tones in the young voice that would soon be the controlling instrument of the Egyptian 19th Dynasty. The whole of Egypt would tremble when that voice was raised – but they would love him, too. The young warrior, soon to be made King, would be adored by his subjects. The continuity of the great black land of Kemet would be assured, as the power passed from the dying Seti to his second son.
Menascare wondered how many more days Seti would linger? Would they get there in time? Rameses, the young King-in-Rising, seemed strangely unmoved by the idea that he might not be present for his father’s passing.
Rameses’ warship – The Beak of Horus, was at anchor just off the landing stage of the temple of Ber Sobek, house of the strange crocodile god whose sweat was said to be the waters of the great river, itself. The enigmatic nature of such a beast – dispensing life and death in equal measures – had always appealed to Rameses. When the rudder of the boat began to stiffen, Ber Sokek had been an easy choice of landing place. The repair appeared complex, and it was obvious that their northward journey could not continue until morning.
Menascare looked down at the painted figures of the Talatat warriors who were fixing the boat, working furiously to use the last of the light before the sun set beyond even their reach in the jagged crags of the western horizon. What he saw made him shudder. The icy perfection of the movements well suited their role as the King’s personal elite. They were men and women of many talents, but their most developed feature was the power of destruction – of minds, of hearts and quite possibly, Menascare reasoned, of souls, too . . .
He turned away from the human machines of regally-dispensed death and looked up at the sun disc, Ra, now renamed Amun-Ra, in honour of the adjusted pantheon, the emotional rallying point around which Egypt had, once again, reconstructed itself following the slaughter of the heretic, Akhenaten, the self-appointed Son of the Sun.
The sun disc had lost most of its burning power. Menascare stared at its fading beauty, knowing that it took the life of Egypt with it, as it entered the underworld of night. Akenaten’s beloved Aten was dying to the day between two pillars of natural stone on the cliff top beyond the Sobek temple. Without thinking, Menascare reached into his black robe and pulled the cobra staff away from his body, saluting the passing sun in the way he had done since Seti had trained him in the magical arts, long ago.
To have Seti himself as mentor had been quite an honour for one of lowly birth; but then, Seti, too, had come into the world in humble circumstance, and his rise to unrivalled royal power had been enigmatic; calling to mind unseen forces and fortune manipulated with great intelligence. The blow of happenings, that curious Egyptian way of looking at seemingly random events, did not always prevail, and Menascare observed wistfully that his own period of influence was setting with that golden orb…
He had not expected his gesture to be met with a response; not here, so far from Pi-Ramesse, Seti’s new royal city in the delta, far to the north; but the golden figure riding the light towards him flickered in his vision, making him fall to his knees, gasping for breath in a dearth of preparedness so uncharacteristic of the way he led his life. Before him, the sky came alive with vibration, and the cobra staff began to heat up in his grasp. All thought of letting it go vanished from his mind as the cool evening air changed its very substance and she of the silence opened the layers of his consciousness like the very finest of mortuary surgeons would the organs of a newly dead royal body.
“Did you think you were unwatched?” said the taunting voice that was not.
“It has been so long, forgive my unpreparedness!”
The silence was so potent it would have felled the stones of the nearby temple. “Forgiveness is not in my nature. Is my chosen Eye of the Cobra weakening in the face of these turning times?”
There was laughter and a challenge in the unspoken voice that whispered painfully in his bowed head. She did not wait for an answer, but continued the interrogation. “The offering of your life was accepted many inundations ago, have you not lived well since then?”
Menascare pulled himself as tall as his kneeling position would allow. He clutched at the staff, which began to flow in form from effigy to real cobra, burning his flesh in a test of will so characteristic of her presence. He had always known, since entering the service of the Goddess, that, one day, the head of this cobra would come alive and turn on its bearer. “Has my hour come?” he asked.
In response, there was silence for a while, as though she hadn’t expected humility. The the sinuous staff began to cool against the flesh of his fingers, though he doubted he would be able to use his charred hands, should the sudden need arise. From hot, the staff turned to cold and then became as ice in his grasp. He looked down and was amazed to see that he was clutching a polished sword so sharp that blood was already dripping from where the edge of the blade was gripped by his unresponsive fingers.
“There is work to do, renew your vows to me with this blood spilled on my metal!”
“I swear to it . . .” His voice was faint, the encounter overcoming already drained strength at the end of a long day fencing with the iron will of Obion, the King-in-Rising’s Talatat commander – a man whose star was in the ascendant, just as his own was waning.
The slicing sensation of the cold metal ended, to be replaced by licking flames, which caressed his wounds, sealing and restoring the flesh. But the flesh had passed beyond consciousness, and, when the Talatat of Vengeance came racing up the cliff path, drawn sword in hand, to investigate his screams, there was only his body, lying, sodden with sweat in its dark robes, unconscious on the pale stone.
Beside him was the cobra staff, its dark and unseen eyes satiated… for now.
Introduction to River of the Sun
In April 2015 a group of people gathered in the Derbyshire hills to enact the Silent Eye’s annual Mystery Play, entitled, The River of the Sun. The five-act mystical drama formed the backbone of that Spring weekend, and told the fictional story of a clash of ego and divinity set in an Isis-worshipping temple located on an island in the Nile, during the the fascinating period of the 19th dynasty, the time of Rameses the Great.
The 18th and 19th dynasties were a time of upheaval for ancient Egypt on many levels. The reign of the ‘Heretic King’ Akhenaten saw Egypt’s religious structure torn apart, as the revolutionary Pharaoh became what Wallis Budge called the ‘world’s first monotheist’; re-fashioning the power of the many Gods with one supreme entity – the visible sun disc, the Aten, for which Akhenaten, alone, was the high priest. Many have pointed to the failure of the ‘herectic’ Pharaoh’s politics, but few have doubted the sincerity of his religious vision. He will, forever, remain an enigma.
Whatever the nobility of his goal, the actions he took were ruthless, and included the shutting down of the annual deity festivals which were the sole point of ritualistic contact between the ordinary people of Egypt and their locally-worshipped gods. In addition, Akhenaten paid little attention to the domestic and military affairs of Egypt, allowing the country’s enemies to encroach on its borders, greatly weakening Egypt’s power at that critical time for the region.
After Akhenaten’s brief reign, culminating in the Pharaoh’s mysterious death, shadowy military forces took control of Egypt, instigating the 19th dynasty in the persons of Rameses I and, soon thereafter, Seti I, whose throne name derives from the god Set – often considered the ‘evil one’ because of his slaying of his brother, Osiris.
Seti I is judged by modern historians as having been one of the greatest-ever pharaohs, yet his importance in the 19th dynasty was eclipsed by the actions of his second son, the brilliant Rameses II, whose long reign of over sixty years included much self-promotion and the alteration of Egypt’s recent history. Both Seti and Rameses II (Rameses the Great) were passionate about the evisceration of the last traces of Akhenaten’s ‘chaos’, as they saw it.
But, although, by the 19th dynasty, the the ‘Son of the Sun’ was long dead and the buildings of his embryonic and doomed city of Tel-al-Armana were reduced to rubble, something of that time remained in the Egyptian consciousness. A new kind of connection between Pharaoh and God had been established, one which elevated mankind, if only in the being of the Pharaoh, to be someone who ‘talked with God’. It was, at the very least, a bold experiment and, though the world would have to wait until the 19th century to re-discover the ‘erased’ pharaoh, the philosophical waves of that period rippled out and dramatically affected the way the incoming 19th dynasty had to repair the worship of the Gods, uniting the people of Egypt under a trinity of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut.
Our fictional story is a tale of politics, friendships, mind and faith. It is set against an historically accurate background, and at a time when Rameses was due to take the throne from the dying Seti .
Returning to Thebes in his swift warship, crewed by his fearsome Talatat mind-warriors, Rameses decides to mount a surprise night-time raid on the island-based Isis temple which has prospered under the sponsoring reign of his father. Rameses suspects that the inner teachings conducted by the revered High Priestess and Priest conceal views that relate to the thoughts of the heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten. He plans to insert himself and his warriors of the mind into the islands’s Spring rites as the high priest and priestess begin a cycle of initiation for a chosen apprentice priest who has proved himself worthy of special advancement.
The resulting clash draws everyone, including the young Pharaoh-in-Rising, into a spiralling situation where each is forced to confront their own fears as well as living out the roles which life has allocated them. River of the Sun is the story of a spiritual and political encounter from which none emerge unchanged, including the man who will shortly be Pharaoh, the mighty Rameses II, whose secret name for himself is ‘the unchosen’.
Through the eyes and minds of those surrounding the chosen priest and the ‘unchosen’ Pharaoh, the River of the Sun takes us on a tense and compelling journey to the heart of power and its eternal struggle with truth.
The chapters of the book will be serialised in this blog. The finished work is planned to be available in paperback and Kindle by the end of the year, and will contain the full novel plus an appendix of the dramatic rituals used to enact the story in April 2015.
Index to chapters:
River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.