River of the Sun, chapter 14 – The Flood
Rameses, second of that name and the one in rising to the throne of Egypt, looked through the widening gap of broken, bronze doorway and fixed his eyes on the woman frozen in shock in the East of the temple.
As the shrieking of torn metal desisted, he held out his warrior’s arms to push the smashed halves of the portal apart. Through the widening gap the regent could see that the eyes of Neferaset had located his face, and was staring in disbelief out of her desecrated world.
He had faced many enemies in close combat, and knew how to read the faces of those who were opposite his blade. The same look of despair greeted him now.
There was shock in the dark eyes on the other side of the wrecked temple space, but there was no terror. Well then, he thought, here’s one who can think in the space between the heartbeats…
He stepped into the temple, flanked behind by Menascare, his former mentor, and Obion, the commander of the Talatat guard. As their leaders entered, those Talatat warriors already secreted in the temple full of priests stepped forward and drew their swords, pointing them at the respective Vessels in the inner ring of figures.
“Who would dare enter a temple of the mysteries when the lights of initiation blaze across the great river?”
It was the voice of Anzety, the foolish brother of the high priestess. Slower than his sister, he had reacted before examining what was already in his eyes, but still unravelled to thought. Rameses drew his sword and was about to step forward to kill the high priest, when Menascare, in a most unexpected action, ran from behind Rameses’ right shoulder to bring the flat of his own sword down on the back of the neck of the offending man.
The high priest slumped to the floor, unconscious. Rameses looked to the East, expecting womanly outrage. Instead, the high priestess had come forward and was kneeling to the East of the altar, her hands pressed flat to the floor, as was her bowed head.
“King of the Coming Sun,” she entreated the regal invader, in a voice more steady than it should have been. “may he live, prosper and be healthy; Rameses, Justice of Ra, Chosen of Ra, this temple begs your forgiveness that we did not know of your arrival!”
Rameses looked at the prostrate figure and laughed.
“Well done, High Priestess! Our actions would have thrown many a warrior from his chariot, let alone a mere priestess.” He smiled, cruelly before adding, “But it is we who disturb your temple…” He watched and admired as she composed herself to reply, desolate amidst the ruins of her dreams.
When it came, her voice was small but steady. Her head still faced the floor, not daring to look up at her royal oppressor, “The elect of the Gods could not disturb, Chosen One! How may we serve you?”
What an astonishing woman, he thought! I must make this last…
Rameses walked around the outer wheel of the temple in the path of Ra. He was no stranger to the design of such spaces, but preferred the halls of justice or the battlefield. Religion held little attraction for him. Yet even he was struck by the beauty of this temple. As he walked, hand on his sword, he looked around at the figures–vessels and visitors alike, who lined his path, each one frozen in the calm and deadly sweep of his vision, all kneeling, heads bowed, before him. Only his Talatat remained standing, conditioned to his rules of engagement. Tired of examining the ruins of ritual, he came to stand before the high priestess. “Rise to your knees,” he commanded.
She did so, pristine and mute, silently waiting his wish…. but strangely unafraid, he thought, smiling. What a prize!
“News travels as quickly as the Great Boat of Ra, High Priestess. I hear, daily, of the wonderful sense of life here; of its insight and things seen, ‘as new as the dawn of Ra in the East’, from those who visit this place. Should I not, then, care to visit it myself?”
He knelt to face her, in a display of savage possession, bringing his face to within inches of hers.
“Is the King-in-Rising to be denied the last moments of his years of wandering freedom, before the golden chains of kingship weigh him down, forever?” He wasn’t expecting an answer…
The man’s voice came from behind him. He turned, angered that his toying with the high priestess had been interrupted, to see a dazed high priest rising to his knees, struggling to speak, “Chosen of Ra,” he coughed. “You find us unprepared for the glory of your visit, though not your divine presence. Give us a little time to arrange this sacred space, that it may be fitting for your arrival among us!”
“You will know when I want to speak with you, priest!” cursed Rameses. “Keep your precious silence or I will have Menascare wield the blade as it was meant to be used…”
Before him, a more attractive voice pulled him away from the directed anger. Neferaset had closed her eyes but was still speaking. He recognised how well brother and sister were defending each other – despite the force lined against them.
“Chosen one, that is my–”
“–Your brother, yes, I know…”
He watched as she straightened her spine and adjusted her breathing, opening her eyes after the third in-breath.
“You come with a challenge then, Chosen of Ra…” Neferaset said. “…or we would already be dripping red beneath the blades of those who broke down our temple doors?”
Rameses smiled at her guile and twisted his head like a snake – something Menascare had taught him as a boy, a clever action that seemed to break the flow of events – introducing a form of chaos into an exchange…”They said I would not be disappointed with you, priestess,” he said. “When those of my Kingdom simper and slide on the ground like meek serpents, how refreshing it is to find someone – and a woman, too – who knows how to stand and look into the eyes of Pharaoh!”
In reply Neferaset looked deep into those royal eyes, and inclined her upper body towards him, mirroring his snake motion. “Like this, Chosen of Ra?”
Rameses laughed with admiration, “Exactly so, Priestess,” smiled the Pharoah-in-Rising. “My spies tell me that you run a wondrous and sacred island here, in the middle of the Great River.” he raised a hand to trace his forefinger across her brow, stopping in the middle of her forehead. “Although your temple is small in years, its fame has spread far.”
The finger began its motion, again, and completed its track across the space over her eyes. “My special guard–the Talatat around you here…” he waved his arm to indicate the warriors who had moved one step nearer the temple’s centre. “…are specially trained, though we can come to the details of that in the morning. I think you will enjoy the nature of their specialities – I’m told you have a fondness for the old ways, like my beloved but often misguided father?”
At the mention of Seti, the priestess pulled herself straighter, in what he took to be a gesture of respect. Very revealing, he thought…
She chose her words, carefully, “Your father, Great Seti, He of the God Set, Beloved of Ptah, always approved of our ways, Majesty!” she straightened out her arms to indicate the sweep of the temple. “He granted us the charter to found the temple of the Divine Feminine on this place when it was just a rock..”
Rameses nodded. His eyes hid a rage inside. When he spoke it was in a low voice. “My father is dying, Priestess – you know that. That is why this will be my last such journey for some time. I mean to take advantage of it!”
Still in her kneeling position, the priestess bowed, saying nothing. Again, she surprises me, thought Rameses. Then he yawned, deliberately, indicating that he was becoming bored with his welcome.
“I am tired, High Priestess. And these,” his hands mirrored Neferaset’s sweeping movements. “the elite of my guard, must be exhausted. You will find us food, drink and your best rooms, I hope?”
Neferaset didn’t even blink. “You will have our own dwellings, Majesty. We will sleep in the company of the Vessels.”
Rameses nodded, glad that his violence had achieved its first goal. “Good. So, let us abandon our games and retire.” He rose to his feet and only then noticed that a boy priest was kneeling, oddly, to one side of the central part of the temple. He drew the priestess’ eyes over to the figure. “Why is that boy kneeling that way and not facing me?”
Not waiting his approval, Neferaset rose and went to stand, protectively, by Amkhren.
“Majesty, your arrival interrupted his initiation as a new priest of this temple.”
“And why does he not face me, now?” asked the regent, in flat tones.
“He is under my command, Majesty – as part of his initiation. He will fail if he answers to anyone’s voice but mine.”
Rameses smiled and walked the short distance to study the apprentice priest.
“I like that – and I cannot fault his courage! I have seen such rituals before…” With that, he picked up the flail and brought it down, harshly, on Amkhren’s back. The young man remained still and endured in silence.
Rameses barked a command, “Obion – to me!” The head of the Talatat elite guard marched from where he had been standing to join Rameses.
Rameses addressed Obion, but continued to look down at the priest. “Pick up that sword. Hold it over his neck, ready to strike.”
Obion took up an executioner’s stance and brought the heavy Khopesh down to touch the skin of Amkhren’s neck. The boy remained silent, despite his obvious terror.
Rameses spoke, softly, as though sharing a jug of beer with his military chief, “Obion, what is the penalty for one who puts high priestess above the King-in-Rising?”
Obion’s response was immediate, “Death by the sword, Majesty!”
“Then do it!” said Rameses.
This time, it was the voice of Menascare which cut through the temple’s hushed silence. “Chosen of Ra–” the older man was walking anticlockwise around the outer circle to come and stand near to them. “–if we are to examine this temple and the minds of its priests, then we could find no better means of so doing than to watch how it conducts this initiation… to which they will be committed and not able to make changes.”
Rameses spun and snarled at his old mentor, speaking for the benefit of Obion, “He’s right of course. Though only he could engineer a situation where his own life would not be made shorter by saying it…”
Rameses turned to look around his beloved Talatat guards, all watching in silence. “Very well, Menascare! But let us introduce you…” Rameses swept his gold-laden arm around the full temple, taking in priests and soldiers, alike. “Brothers and Sisters of the Black Land, meet Lord Menascare, friend of King Seti and my former mentor….Oh and did I say? No? – Also creator of the Talatat, my very talented guardians…whom he now detests…”
Leaving this revelation to settle, Rameses put his hand on Amkhren’s head in a mock-fatherly way.
“Your neck is spared, young Priest… for now,” Rameses’ smile was sadistic. “though, since your obedience to the High Priestess has wedded you to this position, you can stay here, for the rest of the night… Lord Menascare can guard you, personally…”
Menascare bowed to Rameses, taking the sword from Obion, who returned to the West of the temple.
Neferaset’s voice finally faltered, “Must we torture him in this way? He is young and has done only that which was commanded – do you not endorse such behaviour to those above him?”
Rameses enjoyed the moment. Savouring the breach in her perfection. So she cared about the boy!
“Torture!” he said, darkly. “You know nothing of torture… come, high priestess, escort us to your rooms and I will take wine with you and tell you how I intend to torture the Hittite spies who were foolish enough to venture into our borders at the last full moon!”
Rameses took Neferaset’s arm. He noticed that the touch made her shudder. That will do for the beginning, he thought.
“I promise you, priestess,” said the King-in-Rising; loud enough for all to hear. “that we will not sleep until the sun rises, again…”
Ignoring what he knew was temple protocol, he propelled the high priestess down the centre line of the broken temple space. Through the hushed and shocked silence, he could hear someone sobbing. He turned to see an old woman trying to suppress her sorrow.
“Why is that woman crying?” he asked.
“She is the boy’s grandmother, Chosen of Ra,” said Neferaset.
“Grandmother! By the Gods, you have assembled quite a circus, here, Priestess! Your wine better be good!
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.