River of the Sun, Chapter Ten – Darkness at the Door
Rameses waited for a moment on the quayside, listening to the sound of the waters lapping at the stone in the black night. He was about to do something that his father would have found unthinkable–he was going to force entry into a temple of the mysteries and take over the rite, deposing the high priestess and claiming precedence by virtue of his royal stature.
Menascare had now caught him up, but remained silent, choosing to stand behind him. The regent didn’t need to ask if the older man approved – he could feel the distaste and the anger in the air between them.
Standing to his left, Obion had no such qualms, and had unsheathed his sword. Its thin blade glittered in the moonlight and caught the flickering flames of the torches that had welcome all to the island temple.
But, they will not welcome us, thought Rameses, looking behind him and studying the efforts of the mighty oarsmen of the crew as they dragged their heavy cargo from the deck of the Beak of Horus onto the quay, using a complex system of ropes attached to the stones against which visiting ships were moored. The young Pharaoh-in-Rising watched until the oarsmen had finished their task, resting their load on the jetty and re-arranging their ropes to form a huge carry-harness. Breathing heavily, they stood, enduring, ready and silent, awaiting his command.
Rameses turned to Menascare, ready to taunt his former mentor.
“No stomach for this, old friend?”
“None, majesty,” said Menascare. “You know my views on the sanctity of temples…” he gazed up at the sky, as though in prayer. “But I will play my part in what you wish to do.”
Rameses nodded, smiling as Obion snorted with disgust at his antagonist. It was a favourite game, playing one off against the other. There was something delicious about putting his former teacher in such a position. There was fondness there too – going back to his childhood, but, since the news that Seti was dying, some of the old mental diversions had become more serious.
The tension between Lord Menascare and Obion was approaching a crisis–and Rameses was by no means certain he would continue to support the older man. Obion’s decisiveness mirrored how he felt he had to be to take the reins of Egypt–and set an early example to those who opposed his ways. Menascare’s hesitant stance on so many things may well have served them both as a tool of reflection in the past; but, a new age was beginning, and Rameses knew exactly what he needed to do: ruthless action was the way forward. Although his father would soon be gone, he would make the Seti in his head proud of what would follow. From the land of Amenti, his father would observe and approve as the unchosen one proved his worth.
Rameses turned to face the twin pylons that led to the inner temple where the rite was in progress. With gesture alone he signalled that the party should move through, and arranged himself at the apex of a fighting triangle with Mensacare and Obion just behind his right and left shoulders. Others of the Talatat followed on behind, diminished in numbers by the ones who were already secreted in the temple. The young leader smiled at the artistry of that… the tortured priest had served them well, while he lived.
At the rear of the fighting elite, the oarsmen followed, their burden swinging in a cradle of carrying ropes as they marched in time, with slow and careful steps which belied the mass they carried.
It seemed mere seconds before they reached the approach to the huge, bronze, temple doors. As they neared the temple, two guards came out of the shadows, bearing torches, faces aghast and eyes wide with disbelief. Rameses did not wait for them to recognise their visitors. Using the flat of his sword, he struck down the first to challenge. Obion dealt with the second. The two bodies lay unconscious, a disorderly ruin amidst a more purposeful arrow of precision.
The fallen were pulled to one side. Rameses walked forward to press his hands on both the doors, enjoying the cool of the metal on his palms. “Mine, now,” he whispered in a voice so low that only Obion and Menascare heard his chant. “Mine now…”
The Talatat stood to one side as the bearers brought up the battering ram; made from a solid trunk of cedar and carved with symbols that would terrify any enemies of the royal house unfortunate enough to be subject to its might.
They all waited while Rameses put his ear to the bronze, listening intently to the muted sounds from within, and picking his moment.
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 early in 2016.
River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.