River of the Sun, chapter 19 – The Return of the Silence
Lord Menascare pushed with all his might at the edge of the damaged temple door. On the other side of the bronze olbong, Anzety, the high priest, did the same, though in the opposite direction. Both men were wet with the sweat of their efforts, but the discomfort had not diminished their determination.
Around them a sea of silent faces stared at their seemingly doomed work to partly fix the damage. Menascare cursed beneath his breath. It should have been unthinkable to attempt the repair at the very start of the restored ritual, but, looking at the twisted metal, he had felt such a depth of emotion that he wanted to make a gesture–to insert a sense of reparation–into the violated space.
One set of eyes, in particular, radiated venom – those of Obion, the Commander of the Talatat, who clutched the handle of his sword as though it were the neck of his arch rival. Menascare returned his gaze with calmness…and ignored it, turning back to his heated efforts. The room was filled with an hypnotic silence. Menasacare had chosen to do this when all participants had returned. He could easily have done it while the young priest-to-be was performing his hasty bathing and re-robing.
With a characteristic streak of subversion – the cause of so much of his troubles – he had elected to make his efforts public, brushing aside the risk of such visible exposure to failure.
In the East, seated in quietude, in the twin place of the Goddesses Isis and Mut, the high priestess sat with her eyes closed. Her calm presence seemingly withdrawn from the whole temple. She seemed oblivious to the efforts of her brother and Lord Menascare.
They were making little progress against the huge weight of the damaged portal. Tools, thought the elder man, I need tools… The thought took his mind back to much younger days when he had the company of the best stonemakers in the land. One in particular, watching his struggles to entertain the young Rameses, had taken him to the palace workshops and taught him the principles whereby a small force could rearrange a seemingly impossible weight, trading distance at one end for tiny movements at the other. He smiled at the memory of the younger Sarkur, and wondered where the Stonemaster was now? Good, men, really good men, were few and far between in this land of fear and politics. The chaos which had been the temporal harvest of the reign of the Erased still seeped through Egypt’s structures of power; whose shapes would never again resemble those of its glorious past–whatever the facade…
Tools, thought, Menascare, again. Forcing his mind from idle regrets to the needs of the now.
Anzety must have been having the same thoughts, for, shaking his head in unspoken agreement with his old teacher, he stepped out of the temple, to return, moments later, with a long, forge-twisted, brass bar and a small block of dense sandstone. Between them they positioned the crude lever. Menascare took one last look at their hasty arrangement, then both men pushed down on the long metal bar. The bronze temple door inched upwards, creaking on its remaining hinge as it rose. Too much weight was being placed on that single pivot, and the silent minds in the room tensed with the sense of impending failure – a failure that would be far worse than the initial act of damage. At the last moment, Anzety jumped across the space and lent his own considerable strength to the final positioning of the metal rings over the top of the giant pin of the upper hinge.
Menascare, now alone, could hold the weight no longer. There was a scream of metal on metal and the entire door hung between two worlds. Then with the high priest hammering his shoulder against the shining surface, a groaning ensued, whose note descended as the door sank, gently, down into its former position, overcoming the buckling of the hinge with its own weight.
There are victories that have nothing to do with death…thought Menascare.
Anzety was slumped, exhausted, against the door, his strained hands tracing wet streaks along the metal as it moved. He opened his eyes to see the miracle of a closing temple door, taking his leaning body with it as it slid into position and sealed the temple, once more, leaving him on his knees and close to sobbing.
But Menascare was not looking at his former pupil. He had turned, at some inner command, to see Neferaset emerging from her meditation. How do you describe the sound of war which has no fury? thought the mage. As if in response, the high priestess opened her eyes and did something that Menascare had only witnessed twice before in his life; once in the presence of his dying teacher, and once in his youth, in a deep sandstone cave, when his mysterious and enigmatic Goddess had first revealed herself to him.
She stopped time…
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.