Chapter 3 – The Dark Waters
Rameses II, soon to be King, Chosen of Ra, Justice of Ra, stood in the prow of the Beak of Horus, looking northwards into the darkness that had fallen like spilled ink onto the smooth waters of the great river. There was nothing on his mind; he was exercising his considerable powers of mental control to keep it as empty as the still, black surface below him. To know when to do nothing was one of the skills he had learned from his former mentor, now missing somewhere in the nearby hills, with behaviour sadly typical of his advancing years.
The day had been fraught with difficulties. His plans to spend the night in the small port of Faris had been thwarted by a failing rudder that had grown progressively heavier to turn, reducing their normal progress to a series of zig-zags as an increasing number of the sparse crew were needed to change the boat’s direction. To compound the problem the great river narrowed and deepened in these parts, its current becoming more turbulent.
Eventually, he had surrendered to the onslaught of the forces of mechanical chaos, offering a small prayer to Amun-Ra, and a curse to Apophis, the great serpent of the underworld, then retreating to the forward observation nest of the ship, allowing, as Menascare taught him many years prior, ‘the moment to reveal its potential’.
He did not have long to wait. From behind him came the sound of a body being dropped, none too gently, onto the forward deck of the warship. He turned to see the tall and strong body of the Talatat of Vengeance, standing on the sloping wooden floor. She bowed to him, then, still wordless, stood back to reveal the unconscious form of his former mentor and guide, Lord Mensacare. Rameses stepped into the dark air, letting his agile body drop, cat-like, onto the wood next to the older man. Immediately, he smelled the musk; initially mistaking it for sweat, but this was a sweeter odour than that produced by bodily effort or fear, and pervaded his senses in a way that no temple incense ever had. The scent pulled at something within him, tore at memories just beyond his waking mind. But, try as he might, he could not retrieve the essence of it, nor its hidden name.
Rameses looked into the darkness, lit now by flickering pitch torches, and spoke to the fearsome warrior who had unceremoniously dumped before him the body of one of the most powerful men in Egypt.
“On the assumption that you didn’t kill him, would you like to tell me why my former teacher is lying on my forward deck?”
The Talatat bowed, again. There was the hint of a smile there – Rameses knew that very little frightened her.
“That was how I found him, Majesty.” she shook her head. “All I know is that he screamed just before I got to him on the cliff edge. But there are no signs of injury,” she bowed, again. “Majesty.” Her voice carried in the night. She was breathing heavily from the enormous effort of carrying the older man’s weight down from the cliffs above the river. Rameses shook his head; his beloved and elite Talatat guard never failed to astonish him with their power and their focus. He preferred their company over all those who thought themselves high and noble in the family palace at Pi-Ramesse, whatever Menascare thought of them.
Ignoring the comatose figure at his feet – something that would have been unthinkable in former times – he studied the lithely powerful and nearly naked body of the warrior woman.
The narrow short sword, worn across the centre of the back, projected over her head like a beacon that announced her intent to any who might cross her path. Her skin held a shining pattern of arrowhead tattoos, picked out in the deep blue that signified the sisterhood of assassins. He watched, for the thousandth time, and let his gaze be drawn, seduced, along her skin, as his body warmed to its compelling trail. His gaze followed the dark blue arrows across the backs of her strong hands to the rippling muscles of her upper arms and shoulders, before gliding along a neckline too delicate to belong to the power beneath; and then plunging downwards over the breasts just as the sister patterns arced upwards from ankle to calf to thigh.
The dual tracks, upper and lower, met in a spiralled twinning that raced across upper thigh and hip beneath the weather-beaten hide skirt. And there it should have ended; but, lured by a masterstroke of the body-engraver’s art, the eye of the young Regent was drawn upwards by an unseen force that seemed to torment him–on, further, past the front of the braided skirt to a single arrow at the navel, set within a blood-red circle, and pointing at the eyes in the Talatat’s face above, which now danced with mischief for the King-in-Rising, but would have, just as easily, danced with delight at the impending death of a victim held paralysed by the deadly glory before him.
She was watching him with a smile, her face lit with the flickering flames of the smoking torch that she was using to examine the fallen Lord Mensacare. “Majesty?” she asked, in a sentiment that needed no embellishment, other than the subtle movement of her right foot, which traced an arc like the opening of a dance.
Rameses shook his head, suppressing the deep and guttural groan in his throat, heard only by himself and the warrior woman before him. In an agony of self-denial, he closed his eyes against the effects of the deadly blue tracks.
Rameses spun away. “Tend him! Bring the Talatat of Poisons to help you. I want to know what felled him!” He shook his head at the madness of the situation. He examined, and then controlled his breathing. Deep, said the remembered chant, taught him by the younger Menascare, so long ago. Go deeper and find the root – the root that does not look like the flower, but feeds from the source which thought it into life . . .
The Regent easily jumped the two feet back to the observation platform with barely a flex of his own young body. There, he resumed his study of the inky blackness of the great river, reading it with a quietened mind, studying the pages of a scroll held open on a lighted bench by the weight of white stones from the high cliffs above.
For a long time, and barely conscious of the healing efforts behind him, Rameses watched the dark water as its tiny eddies whirled and spoke in the gathering light of the moon. The life of Seti, his beloved and dying father, with whom he had enjoyed a complex but close relationship, was its subject.
Was his second son really ready to take the reigns of the great chariot of the sun – the land of Egypt? Why was he not making every effort to be with his father on his deathbed at Pi-Ramesse; within the sublime walls of their new palace in the fertile lands of the delta? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that, deep in his heart, there was still the irrational pain of not being the first chosen; the memory of the long years when his long-dead elder brother stood in the light of the royal sun, to be trained and groomed for rule.
Menascare had been his father’s gift, to ease the seen pain of that. The revered mage had grown up in his father’s house, although, himself, a younger friend to the great man. The gift of such a well-known figure – to be his personal mentor and teacher – had been seen as significant. Such an action marked the wisdom of Seti, yet both he and his second son knew that, within the young royal breast, there beat a heart that knew intense jealously. This had focussed itself on an odyssey of self-glorification, and the palace officials had smiled nervously as the young King-in-Rising paraded his every achievement in the face of his perceived tormentors. ‘Rolite’, the small, yellow weed that grew wild along the banks of the great river had been his nickname – concealing the hidden meaning Royal Little Me, which had been the cruel but accurate jibe whispered in the stony corridors of power.
None, though, had stood in his way, and his father had taken him, early, into battle, following years of military and tactical training at the hands of the best generals in the land. Seti, The second King of the 19th Dynasty had acted decisively when it came to consolidating the power they had achieved after the fall of The Erased. The glory that followed had only added to the legend that was Seti’s rule. Seti I, Lord of the Restored Lands, Fortifier of borders, Rake of the Erased . . .
“Majesty! He wakes!”
It was the sound of The Talatat of Poisons in the darkness below. Rameses turned to examine the scene. The patterned warrior was now kneeling on the deck, using the light of the torch to allow the former deputy to the royal physician to do his work.
Apart from his famed golden collar, a beautifully made torc in the shape of cobra, Menascare was now naked – something that caused the warrior woman a slight smile. Rameses doubted they had ever been lovers, and was curious as to the gesture’s origins. Despite his forty years, the older man’s body was still in good condition, though the pale skin lacked the vibrant musculature it once possessed when he and the boy Rameses had shared an active life of hunting, instruction and plotting together.
Rameses nodded into the dark air – a gesture no-one saw – and stored the Talatat warrior’s reaction in his mental web – some day it might prove useful.
“What ails him, Talatat of Poisons?”
“I can find nothing, Majesty,” said the kneeling healer, “I have examined every inch of him and there are no wounds. Perhaps his age has overtaken him?”
It did not ring true. Even now, Menascare was strong and swift – when he wanted to be – but pretended to be slow and old when it suited him. He was a fox of the desert, and everyone knew it. He had used age to create a screen for his deeper interests, and they were a curious mixture; indeed, they alone, Rameses thought, would likely be the cause of his death at the hands of Obion, the Talatat commander of the elite guard and the sworn enemy of the ‘old meddling fool’ as the soldier had dubbed his long-time adversary. Rameses looked up from the moaning, dribbling and, Rameses thought to himself, sadly recovering Menascare to search out the ever-watchful eyes of his master of warfare. He found the stocky commander standing on the rear deck of the bow-hulled warship, using its height to examine every detail of the scene below.
“Sadly, still here to irritate us all, then,” said Rameses, loud enough to solicit Obion’s nodded approval across the full length of the ship. “We must endure your all-pervasive wisdom a while longer, eh?” Despite the Regent’s exaggerated ire at the recovery of his former mentor, his gesture of wiping the brow of the mage with a wet cloth passed to him by the Talatat of Poisons showed the deeper bond between them. But gesture was such a subtle language, thought the young scion, studying Menascare’s flickering eyes as the older man fought to return to his senses.
There was a sudden fury of activity in the middle of the boat. Rameses ran over to follow the unfurling lines of rope being thrown over the side of the Beak of Horus to a much smaller craft, the Sobeki – a narrow rowboat of a very streamlined design; built only for speed and land-based assaults. As he watched he could see a white-robed young man being forced up the rope ladder. Soon, he stood, trembling on the deck, then dropped to his knees before the King-in-Rising, putting his forehead onto the wood of the deck and moaning in fear.
Before he could continue his obeisance, the Tatatat of Spying, the leader of the scouting party that Rameses had sent out after their forced delay, clambered over the side of the ship and spoke.
“He was observing from the bank, Majesty. We thought you would wish to know why?”
Rameses knelt down and pulled the white-robed man to his knees. He focussed his blue-grey eyes into the pools of terror before him. “Spying on a royal ship is a foolish thing to do,” he said, in tone that was terrifyingly gentle, “But, be assured, we will have the full story from you, soon . . .”
From the shadows emerged a slim woman, dark of features with silky black hair combed tightly into a silver lattice which crowned her head. Her willowy body was covered by a black cloak, which seemed to absorb the light around her.
“This is my Talatat of Inquistion,” said Rameses, cruelly enjoying the fear in the young priest’s eyes. “She will entertain us all with an exploration of your motives – you must understand that the House of Seti has many enemies.”
The white robed figure tried to pull away from the royal arms holding him fast. The upper folds of his robe parted and Rameses’ hand darted out to clasp the carved wooden pendant hanging on a leather cord around the man’s neck. With a savage pull, he snapped the leather and held up the pendant for all to see in the flickering light.
“Perhaps we begin to know our enemies?” he said, softly.
Eleven pairs of eyes stared at the circular glyph. Nine points on the circumference were joined together in a complex pattern of lines. To the Talatat, including their commander, Obion, this was something new – and much more complex than the simple insignia of traditional enemies, such as the Hyksos invaders of Egypt’s recent history. To Rameses, this was the justification he had been waiting for – not that he needed any, but political power had its necessary forms.
To Menascare, getting slowly to his feet, still naked and silently present to the whole of the unfolding events, it was further evidence that the long and tortuous drama of his life was, most likely, coming to its final act.
Index to previous chapters:
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 previous chapters:
River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.