River of the Sun, chapter Twelve – Above and Below
Sarkur the Stonemaster lay beneath Egypt’s stars, looking deep into the sky as though reading the story of his own life.
As a young child, his mother would walk him to the cliff-edge, where the stars were brightest, and point out the patterns in the sky. For each, she would tell him the tales handed down by the people of the land, tales of humour, adventure and what he would later know as wisdom. Then there were secret tales, too – tales of her own with which she would embellish the traditional stories, providing a newer narrative on the popular exploits of the Gods, as though seen from a different and hidden perspective. “Always look for the other side, Sarkur” she had said to him, putting him to bed and stroking his forehead while sleep claimed his young body. “Every tale has two faces… the wise man makes a friend of the second and doubles his world.”
He had never forgotten that moment–nor the warmth and humility of the woman who raised him. Now, as he stared up at the masterwork of Nut’s glory, he wondered, once again, why this remote tower could be of such importance to the young Rameses?
Mareuka and his team were sleeping far below, in the moon-shadow of the stone finger. Within the last few hours, fired up by the foreman’s example, they had done the work of a full day, toiling with a fury that belied their tiredness after the earlier march from the great river.
Now they slept.
The narrow, central spiral stairway that connected the ground with the sky-platform was, by now, a hated place–a nightmare of twisting, up which they had to haul themselves and much of their materials. No-one had elected to join Sarkur when he announced he wanted to sleep high under the stars.
Nestled in his solitary tiredness, he smiled at that… he hadn’t wanted anyone with him, anyway, but, unusually for someone of his authority, felt he should ask…
He looked around him in the silver light. Over a quarter of the sun platform had been finished. Its circular perimeter forming a dividing line between ghostly white and shadowy black as it glistened in the bright moonlight. There were no raised edges as you approached that division. The only non-uniformity in the growing disc was a single darker stone, fitted, perfectly, with the others and just offset from the centre of what would be the full circle. When Sarkur had asked its purpose, Rameses had called it the testing stone, for reasons no-one knew. The King-in-Rising had said little else about it, other than to say he was having it made and they need not worry further about it.
With a trick of the tired eye, you could imagine that the growing surface extended like a flat plain out into the high valley beyond the foothills. Sarkur knew the stone workers were proud of what they were building. He also knew that the King-in-Rising would tolerate nothing less than perfection; and would soon be searching for any reason to be dissatisfied with those favourites of his father who now sought favour from the son. He had no wish to lose his royally-backed livelihood… and Seti concurred.
Sarkur traced one of the star patterns with a dusty finger, trying to remember which God’s adventures were written in the tapered shape. He moved his head to align himself with its vertical length, seeing for the first time that it resembled one of the pylons at the entrance to the temple on the island of Gezirah-al-Nabatath. He thought of the long months, many years ago, when practically half of Seti’s building team had worked to restore the old ruins of the ancient Isis temple there, adding and extending as they went, creating what all agreed was one of the great river’s most beautiful wonders.
Correspondences had always fascinated him. He chuckled as a sharp pain in his back reminded him that he had brought up to the starry platform a particularly pure length of sandstone, which had detached itself from a badly fractured larger rock while they had been furiously preparing the last of the day’s raw blocks. The piece had reminded him of one of the main pylons on the Isis island. He loosened the hemp blanket which would later protect hm from the cold that came with the vision of the stars, twisting so that he could extract the rock stump. He held it up to the night sky and marvelled that, although lacking finish, it was nearly the same shape as the sky pattern he had been tracing…
Seeking to get the alignment exact, as though that held some unknown importance, his arms cramped from the day’s over-exertion, and the rock dropped from his tired fingers, bouncing, painfully, off his chest and spinning across the stone and towards the edge of the platform. Despite his age, Sarkur spun, rapidly around and threw out a hand to arrest its motion, but the blanket snagged his movements and he ended up pushing the block over the edge…
For the briefest of moments, he watched it fall, spinning in the moonlight. Then the darkness took it and he could only look down and pray it would miss his stoneworkers. He thought about crying out a warning, but decided it would be too late… The splintering crash told a safe but sad tale and the secondary sounds indicated that the pieces had been scattered far and wide on the rocks below.
He could hear Mareuka cursing in his sleep, which did something to alleviate the unexpected feeling of sadness that dropped from the dark sky.
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 in the Spring of 2016.
River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.