River of the Sun, chapter 17 – The Rule of Three
Lord Menascare, former mentor to the King-in-Rising, stood in the outer arc of the temple, close to Anzety, the high priest. He watched the care with which Neferaset approached and woke the young priest, Amkhren, whose body was lying, still deeply asleep, where he had left it. The four of them were the only occupants of the temple.
What must it be like, thought the Eye of the Cobra, to have your world destroyed, but still need to pick your way through the debris of what you held most sacred, to save another’s life? Damn you, Rameses – did nothing I taught you take root in the fertile soil of your pampered soul?
But I can do this! His anger became a fury, and the fury became a voice, projected so that the stone walls of the temple echoed in their jagged harmonics, causing every head but that of the kneeling Neferaset to look to the West. The power of Menascare’s voice was such that it reached those waiting in the passageway outside.
“Let all bear witness,”chanted Rameses’ wayward mage, “that in obedience to the King-in-Rising, Rameses, Chosen of Ra, the high priestess of this temple rightly demands our participation in the continuation of this sacred rite.”
Menascare glanced across at Obion, knowing the choice of words would be crucial. The Talatat leader tightened his fingers around the Khopesh sword he always carried. One slip of meaning and the elite commander would attack him. He knew that Obion had his orders, too – and there was no certainty that both would be the same…
“Let all know,” Menascare held up the royal scroll left by the ruler, conscious that the very edge of danger was being trod, “that by examination during the night, our mighty Regent has determined that the high priestess is fit to lead us in the further testing of the young priest-to-be, Amkhren.”
Sensing the powers that strove for mastery of her space, Neferaset seized her opportunity, “Amkhren, wake now!”
No-one of this young man’s calibre should be faced with waking in a temple whose dark wings will almost certainly toy with him until his death, mere hours from now, thought Menascare, shaking his head at Neferaset’s courage and…nobility.
The boy turned a sleepy head, then unfolded bent limbs and stretched in the unselfconscious way that young things do. He looked around the temple, startled that it was not all a dream, yet holding fast to the eyes of Neferaset whose power was focussed on him in this, his weakest moment.
The high priestess spoke softly, “You did well, Amkhren. You did what I commanded you to do. Now you must do more…so much more.”
Amkhren struggled to his feet and bowed, awkwardly, to Neferaset. “Yes, High Priestess,” he said, adding in a whisper. “Light of my existence…”
Menascare watched as Neferaset’s attention shifted – to the poles of power represented by the Talatat commander and himself. He studied her, admiring what he saw, as she unfolded her lithe body from the floor and, standing once again, gathered her resolve.
“Menascare, Obion!” Her voice was firm, “I have my orders from the King. Do you support me in what I must do?”
He could reply from the heart, “I can only speak for myself, High Priestess; I have my orders too – and they are to support you–but, also, to ensure that I lend to your rituals the same eye that the King-in-Rising, received at his tasks when the Regent was the age that your young apprentice priest is now.”
Obion spoke as one who tolerated being in the temple only because the King-in-Rising had demanded it.
“I have my orders, too, High Priestess, and in the Regent’s hand. Beyond those I cannot say, since neither the Eye of the Cobra nor I have seen him since last night,” he smiled slyly, “though you may have seen a lot of him..”
“I am sure the King’s eyes are everywhere, Obion,” said Neferaset, easily deflecting the soldier’s slight, “and that he sees through both you and me as he wishes. To return to my question: do you place your forces at my command so that I may carry out in this temple what the King has instructed me to do?”
That was a brave thing to say, thought Menascare. Everything now waited on the commander’s response.
“My orders are to guard, watch and wait,” said Obion, the deadly overtones obvious in his words.
“Very well,” said Neferaset. “This place, though damaged, is still a magical temple in the high tradition of ancient Kemet, our black land. The rites here were never designed for a circle of hardened soldiers. I will need to command their movements if not their words.” she looked from Menascare to Obion and back, testing them with her eyes. “Do I have your word on this?” She fixed her gaze on Obion, her evaluation of friend and foe finished, waiting for confirmation in their actions to follow…
Menascare interrupted, stealing the space within Obion’s slower response. “The Talatat are soldiers of the mind, above all else. Their obedience is absolute and they will do as Obion commands. What that is, I cannot say…”
Confident that she had at least secured a renewed beginning for her temple authority, she turned to talk to Amkrhen.
“Priest to be,” she said, softly. “You have one turning of the sand to wash and prepare yourself with fresh robes. Be swift in body but let your mind be swifter…”
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 period of deep upheaval for ancient Egypt. 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, are the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.