Two horizons, p.1
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Two Horizons
TWO HORIZONS

  Hank Lawson

  Published by:

  Copyright 2013 Hank Lawson

  Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcomed to share it. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. Thank you for your support.

  Contents

  Characters

  Author’s Note

  TWO HORIZONS

  Part 1: Inundation Season

  Chapter 1: Twin Dawn

  Chapter 2: Duel Night

  Chapter 3: Assassinations in Sunshine

  Chapter 4: Awakened in Moonlight

  Chapter 5: Naked as Sun

  Chapter 6: Veiled as Eclipse

  Chapter 7: Noon Blind

  Chapter 8: Nightshade

  Part 2: Recession Season

  Chapter 9: Morning Oaths

  Chapter 10: Evening Curses

  Chapter 11: Ebb Like Dawn

  Chapter 12: Crush Like Midnight

  Chapter 13: Bright Prince

  Chapter 14: Shadow Prince

  Chapter 15: Chilly Sun

  Chapter 16: Feverish Moon

  Part 3: Drought Season

  Chapter 17: Twilight Like a Blue Fog

  Chapter 18: Freezing Nights in Red Sand

  Chapter 19: Broken Mornings

  Chapter 20: Lingering Evenings

  Chapter 21: Daymare

  Chapter 22: Nightmare

  Chapter 23: Remembering to Awaken

  Chapter 24: Divining the Dream

  Part 4: Days Between Years

  Chapter (numberless): Day and Night

  Epilogue: Immortality

  Glossary

  About the Author

  Dedication

  Acknowledgements

  Characters

  Author’s Note

  Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.

  —Arabian proverb

  Several legends about Ancient Egypt should be put to rest. First, slaves did not build Egypt’s pyramids. Love built them. Like that of the young man in this story. This same love of nation later created the Apollo moon mission at the behest of the America’s leader.

  Second, Egypt’s leader who built the Great Pyramid was God-king Khufu, the leader in this story, not Pharaoh Cheops. “Pharaoh” comes from the Ancient Egyptian “Per-O,” which means palace. A similar mistake bastardized Khufu’s name into Cheops. Egypt’s kings were believed to be imbued by the Creator gods with divine, if temporary, magic that raised the annual Nile flood that gave life to Egypt surrounded by desert.

  Third, Herodotus relayed the lie that Khufu was a tyrant. Rather, Khufu fed his people when the Nile’s yearly Inundation flooded farmland for four months of every year. Otherwise, they would have starved.

  Fourth, despite the impulse to maintain the perfection of its Creation, Ancient Egypt evolved over its 3,500 years. Most stories and novels about Ancient Egypt are of a time one to two thousand years later than in this story. For instance during this time, Egyptians built little with stone that wasn’t a pyramid. Stone was only beginning to replace mudbrick in temple construction.

  Fifth, rather than being obsessed with death, Ancient Egyptians believed that a life so wonderful could not end. Because they wrote their stories of the afterlife on stone, afterlife and stone, like that in a pyramid, live on.

  For ease of reference in my story, I use Western names for measurements such as mile and hour. As well, I will use the names Nile and Egypt. Other names are ancient Egyptian.

  As the Inundation was reborn each year and the sun was reborn each dawn, the start of the Egyptian day, this story begins with dawn at the beginning of the eighteenth year of Khufu’s reign.

  TWO HORIZONS

  Part 1

  INUNDATION SEASON

  Chapter 1

  TWIN DAWN

  As on each New Year’s Day in Egypt, the sun rose with the star Septit. This twin rising announced not only the rebirth of Egypt but also the rebirth of her God-king Khufu. Unprecedented though was Khufu’s invitation that citizens might witness his ritual of accession in the Ra Temple. One such witness would be eighteen-year-old Mehi, who, the night before, had purified his flesh with natron salt like a mummy or a priest so he’d be properly anointed. But, despite his effort, the year’s best day broke for Mehi with a curse.

  “Father is a tomb-robber.”

  Mehi shook away his dream of hyenas squealing in the desert. He opened eyes on his brother Sebek squatting beside him on the roof of their parents’ home. Even in the pre-dawn dusk, Mehi saw that his brother was sneering. “Gods,” Mehi said, rising to an elbow, “you’ll say anything if it takes a bite out of someone.”

  Sebek jabbed a finger at him. “Last night, Father walks out with his tool sack at midnight. What does that tell you? And he meets up with two men carrying their sacks.”

  “You followed Father?” For Mehi, this was as wrong as tomb-robbing, though not requiring tomb-robbing’s horrible justice of the impaling stake.

  “They went up north to King Sedjes’ pyramid and those nobles’ tombs there.” Sebek set back and gauged Mehi. ”You and Father went there last month, didn’t you?”

  “You think he was planning this tomb-robbing then?” Mehi’s stomach tightened. “Are you saying I’m part of this?”

  “Pfft, you’re not man enough.”

  Mehi’s body began to steam.

  “North of the largest tomb, ninety-one paces—I counted them—they slithered into the ground like beetles. I snuck up to the hole and heard ’em: ‘chink, chink, chink.’”

  To block the images of tomb-robbing that Mehi began to imagine, he looked toward the eastern horizon. The sun and the star Septit were peeping above dark hills. Amber light fanned over the brothers, then across neighbors sleeping on the cool roofs that, in hours, would be too hot to stand on. But dawn had caught him soiled with his brother’s foul curse. In the sun’s glare, Septit was shrinking to nothing. Mehi’s chin dropped onto his bare chest. “You’re lying on this day of all days.”

  “Go see yourself.” Sebek swept an arm toward the north. “Where they started, they got a month of cutting to get to the tomb.”

  “You always believe the worst.”

  “And you always believe the best, puppet.”

  Why not believe the best? Mehi believed Egypt was the best possible nation. She had no enemies. No wars. No army. Her Nile supplied an endless—though, like last year, variable—level of water and dense silt that fertilized crops twice a year. This was due to God Ra creating Egypt with ma’at, The Order. Upon the building stones of justness and balance, ma’at ordered the universe, its cycle of days and seasons, its rising and shining of sun and stars, its everything, including Mehi and all Egyptians. Ma’at ordered Horemheb as his father and Khufu as his God-king. Without ma’at, the universe would collapse back into the chaos before Creation.

  Tomb-robbing threatened ma’at. So did lies. Mehi knew that lie or truth meant nothing to Sebek as long as it spoiled Mehi’s day. This particular day.

  Sebek snatched up his bedmat, slapped it on the mudbrick and lay down. On his back, rubbing his hands before him in the manner of a fly, he said, “One or two of those jewels on that nobleman’s mummy will find their way into my pocket, you better know.”

  Disgust like vinegar soured in Mehi’s mouth. His hand formed a fist. It just never seemed willing to connect with his brother’s face.

  Imagine men with grubby, ignorant fingers distorting a man’s mummified features so that even his mother who gave him life wouldn’t recognize him, let alone his ba soul who otherwise would give him eternal life. Such a greedy moment destroyed a person’s eternity in heaven.

  Mehi looked westward t
o the desert. The sand deflected red heat into the sky and the village huts. Even Sebek’s eye tinted red. During the just-passed drought season, deserts east and west had crept in on the living like a slow fire. Retreating on both fronts, the Nile reeled into itself toward a vanishing point. But today, when God-king Khufu re-awakened his divine magic, he would breathe life into Egypt by again rousing the Nile. If Egypt was the moon, she would be waxing.

  Mehi promised himself and his God-king to rejoice in the rest of their New Year’s Day.

  Mehi spun from his brother and rose for the rope ladder, descending it into shadows cast by homes across the alley. He planted his bare feet onto his family’s courtyard still warm from yesterday’s sun. Three feet away, their four sheep stood, faced him, and expectantly stretched their leashes toward him.

  “In a minute,” he whispered to them.

  Turning to the hut, he put out his fingers and bent them back against the mudbrick wall. The bone-hard brick reassured him as did the clay soap fragrance drifting out of his home. Maybe his brother’s story wasn’t true.

  Mehi tiptoed inside onto the cool, packed-earth floor. Dawnlight through two high window slits in the wall behind him drifted onto the opposite wall. On it he counted the twenty wooden talismans his mother Khety had crafted and hung there over the years whenever Mehi’s father went on an overnight gambling binge.

  “Keeps my hands from doing something I’d regret,” she’d tell her husband.

  The wall displayed no new talisman. Thankfully, his mother hadn’t heard Sebek’s story. Yet.

  Mehi padded past his father’s low stool to peek into the back room. His mother’s small frame was curled up—alone. Seeing the empty straw mattress beside started Mehi to ache. As helpless to fix that lonely image as he was to raise the Nile, he had to wish his father was only gambling last night. How much more would his father hurt Khety if he was a tomb-robber? Mehi’s ache wore up into his temples. Perhaps he’d have to fulfill his mother’s ultimate wish that he become a priest and give up his own dream to work on Khufu’s pyramid.

  Mehi eased back into the front room. As quietly as he could, he plucked a hunk of bread and an onion from a basket shelved below the windows, stroked the child protector God Bes—his mother’s carving in a niche by the doorway—and strode out into the sharpening sunlight.

  From a barley bushel, he threw handfuls to the sheep. Today, his mother would churn out that tangy cheese for their New Year’s dinner. The family could afford animals because Mehi’s father was a stonemason at God-king Khufu’s pyramid. But a captured tomb-robber’s privilege of life would end on a pointed stake.

  Mehi poured water into the lambs’ trough before saying good-bye to them.

  Passing the clay oven in the courtyard’s corner where beef strips lay to dry, he headed into the quiet alley. It led him between neighbors’ huts, square or oblong, brown or red, stuck together like honeycomb cells, and, a hundred yards later, to the clearing at the front of his village Mer. Two neighbors were setting up a long spit to roast four geese, gifts of the God-king’s stores.

  “Merry Heb-Sed,” the three men said to each other.

  During his four-hour trek north to the Ra Temple in the capital city Annu, Mehi would cross countless village celebrations with roasted lamb as well as geese, fresh bread and black beer. Females would clap, sing and dance in serpentine lines to the hastening tunes of harpists. Boys would wrestle and elders would tap tokens across a senet board. “Bread and beer and all good things,” Mehi said, though he’d not delay his route to enjoy them. By Khufu’s proclamation, common citizens could enter a temple today, unlike any day in history, to witness the God-king’s rebirth. This was Mehi’s chance, likely his only chance, to set foot in a temple like a priest and come so close to his God-king that he’d witness the color of Khufu’s eyes.

  Walking on, Mehi realized with a shudder that he’d also have to pass the Sedjes pyramid site. Still, the sun began to shine as bright as his mother’s eye. It had shed every serpent it battled throughout the previous night. If time wasn’t pressing him, Mehi would lay out in the sunlight until it burnt off the muck of his brother’s message that mired his heart.

  Through the leaves and scarlet figs of shoreline sycamores, the pale green Nile came into view. Waves broke only in spasms, not with the fury the river would soon flaunt—should the God-king will it. From across the water, a barge captain’s morning hymn mingled with the “art-ta-char” melodies of a pitch of gold orioles in the sycamores.

  Mehi trudged up and over the canal embankment that ran parallel to the river. The canal was dry. As was the shore. His feet crunched mud flats gridded by three-inch-wide cracks. Last year’s Inundation had failed to deposit a healthy level of silt on the fields. It must do so this year or, as his father had warned, “There’ll be people starving.”

  Swallowing the last of his salty bread and sweet onion, Mehi knelt to drink from the river. He paused at seeing his round face reflected in the water. His grin spread. Because the grin pushed his face into an egg shape, his brother said it made look like an idiot. Mehi guessed that people like his brother who treated him as simple did so to excuse themselves of their own lack of pleasure. Others, like Mehi’s father, seemed ready to slap the grin off his face. Those at peace, his mother being one, mirrored his smile to him with their own.

  The water Mehi drank soaked throughout his chest like the Nile branching into its delta. He felt just as boundless. While the odor of bog rot and dust pinched his nostrils, he heeded the hope of the coming Inundation. Time began anew.

  Back atop the nine-foot-wide embankment, which served as a road, Mehi headed north. Two Mer village women chatted, each balancing several loaves on their heads.

  “Happy Heb-Sed,” he called to them.

  “And we celebrate your birthday,” one said. “You’re Khufu’s twin, isn’t that right?” the other said with a giggle.

  Mehi grinned and shook his head. How could he consider his birthday when Egypt was reborn today?

  Two boys sprinted past. The one in front yelled, “I’ll be there first.” “No, you won’t,” said the other.

  An hour later, the mounting heat prickling Mehi’s skin, there was no room for running. Hundreds of citizens heading to Annu packed the road. They slowed him. And, directly west, the Sedjes pyramid site waited with the truth about his father. Mehi didn’t want to think of that.

  As he threaded through the clots of people, the crowd drew to the left side of the road. They unveiled two Gods: God Anpu and Goddess Ma’at, two of the forty-one regional Gods walking the roads to Khufu’s Heb-Sed.

  Mehi’s feet tingled with recognition that he touched the same ground as Gods. Of course, Sebek would see only High-priests, one wearing a jackal mask and the other a white ostrich plume. But Mehi saw the God who weighed Ma’at’s plume against the heart of a deceased Egyptian. Anpu judged those with heavier hearts to have forsaken ma’at during their lives and so exiled them to wander the deserts forever.

  Anpu and Ma’at had paused in their journey to rest. Out of respect, Mehi too stopped. To the west was the truth. He waited. His feet tapped, his thighs twitched. He sweated into his loincloth. Nothing he found in the sycamores, river or sky helped to lighten his heart.

  A minute more and Mehi was hurtling due west.

  In twenty minutes, breathless and sweating, panic like a cobra’s jaws around his throat, Mehi surveyed the Sedjes complex at the edge of the desert. To his left, Sedjes’ five-stepped pyramid climbed one hundred and fifty feet into the air. He then noticed cult priests at its north face delivering offerings. Mehi hit the ground, his chest smarting with the impact. He scuttled to his right into a basin of loose gravel where the priests couldn’t detect him. Hunched, Mehi scampered to the north side of the largest of three rectangular mastaba tombs, roofs flat and walls sloping.

  Mehi measured off ninety-one paces. Kicking at rubble there, he uncovered acacia branches and underneath … a dark hole. Exactly where Sebek said it wou
ld be. Mehi’s heart didn’t so much beat as squeeze.

  He jumped into the hole of his father’s making.

  Through the gritty dust flying up and stinging his eyes, Mehi saw that the sandstone bore the distinctive crisscross scoring of his father’s chisel work. It might have been gouged into Mehi’s chest. He sensed his father’s fingers scavenging his heart, ribs and lungs for something valuable to pluck away.

  At that moment, the sun lit up Mehi in the pit. He scrunched into his smallest self. Found here, he’d be guilty of desecration. As guilty as his father. His mother would suffer a criminal son.

  Mehi scrambled from the hole, feeling God Ra’s heat blister his spine, certain Ra hated the very sight of this blasphemer’s son. Mehi replaced the branches and rubble as his criminal father had.

  Like a scared hare, Mehi began dashing to Annu to outpace God Anpu’s judgment. He stayed off the main road that streamed with Egyptians who sought God-king Khufu’s blessing for wealth or power. He sought Khufu’s forgiveness.

  One hour north of Mehi, another young man sat quivering in his mildewed mud and reed hut. Only his eyes were stable, staring at a God Ptah amulet on the dirt floor.

  His father lived in any of several towns and his mother had been gone for days, “visiting” she called it. Never mind that, he told himself; he spent his time better with the priests at the Great Temple of Ptah. High-priest Ptah-Du-Au himself re-named the young man Anhur after the slayer of enemies. The enemy of God Ptah was the usurper God-king Khufu. Khufu had rejected the state religion of God Ptah who created all things by naming them in favor of vulgar God Ra who created through ejaculation.

  Awake throughout the night, Anhur fretted over the chant Ptah-Du-Au had sworn would help Anhur carry out the plot. The plot. Was Anhur good enough to breathe the chant?

  Sweat seeping onto his forehead, Anhur sneaked out the chant a first time. “It is Ptah and only Ptah who created Egypt and me.”

  No, he shouldn’t have said it.

  The tart words lingered on his tongue. He flicked it in his mouth. He craved that taste. He repeated the chant. Even so, he hesitated before each word. “It is Ptah and only Ptah who created Egypt and me.”

  The chant was for Ptah. It was Anhur’s purpose, purpose he’d never known. “It is Ptah and only Ptah who created Egypt.” For God Ptah. Faster. Louder. Again. Fear softened like a fig in his mouth. His torso tilted.

  That usurper, that devil Khufu.

  Anhur’s forehead and jaw knotted. “It is Ptah who created.”

  On into the dark, sweat bubbling on his lips, Anhur trembled with the chant’s rhythm. “It is Ptah and only Ptah who created me.” For hours it pounded in his ears, enclosing him. His upper body teetered, broadening into wobbling circles. Sleepless and dreamless, Anhur chanted, “It is Ptah and only Ptah.” On and on, losing track of time. Faster and faster. “It’s Ptah and only.”

  The chant chased out his loneliness like shouting at crows in a barley field.

  “Ptah, only Ptah.”

  A sliver of light pierced the hut’s gloom. In it, God Ptah appeared.

  “Ptah, only Ptah.”

  God Ptah spoke.

  “Ptah, only Ptah.”

  Anhur heard the word.

  “Only Ptah.”

  God Ptah blessed Anhur’s tongue.

  “Ptah.”

  Heavenly courage braced his bones.

  “Ptah.”

  Anhur the warrior, slayer of enemies.

  “Ptah.”

  Anhur fingered the chisel in his robe.

  “Ptah, Ptah, Ptah.”

  At noon, gold in the sun flamed over Mehi. Having run from the Sedjes site and ferrying the Nile, he finally weaved into the thousands of Egyptians praising, drinking and vomiting on the Ra Temple avenue. In their crush, Mehi’s lungs wouldn’t expand. He couldn’t catch his breath. And although their sweat primed him like no natron could, he had to shed from his family the scum of his father’s pit. He needed Khufu.

  Khufu was Sun God Ra’s descendent. After Ra created the universe, He lived in Egypt with humans for thousands of years, each dawn resurrecting Himself from the night. When Ra chose to dwell in the stars, He sustained His perfect Creation by infusing select descendants with His magic that, identically to Himself, required resurrection. Khufu would reawaken that magic today.

  The avenue of whitewashed mudbrick, forty yards broad, flowed east to west from the palace more than a mile distant. Lining either side of its last hundred yards stood twelve statues of falcon-headed Ra and—also twenty feet tall—twelve, gold-tipped obelisks. Ahead of Mehi on a plateau rose the Ra Temple where Khufu would resurrect his divinity. Where Mehi had to be. Yet the hundreds of citizens in front of Mehi dammed him. They brawled and snarled in hope, like his, to squeeze past its pillars that spread as the God’s smile across its three-hundred-foot face. Had Mehi’s filthy detour to the pit spoilt his chance to cleanse his family of it?

  A man reeking of onions and beer hoisted himself on Mehi’s shoulder yelling “Khufu!” Jerking his head away, ears ringing, Mehi swept his eyes across the God-king. Enthroned upon his palanquin with right fist, over his heart, holding the royal flail, Khufu advanced up the avenue.

  As if the ground caught fire, celebrants sprang up. “Khufu, Khufu, Khufu.” Mehi craned toward the God-king as if for the last swallow of water on earth. “Khufu, Khufu, Khufu.” On the God-king, the sun shone brightest. Reflecting Ra like a polished capstone, Khufu’s Southern Egypt’s white cone crown fit within his Northern Egypt’s red crown.

  The masses parted for the God-king’s procession, but not without clawing that left many bleeding. They clamped in on Mehi who could only watch Khufu pass.

  Once at the granite causeway leading up to the temple, his carriers halted. The crowd quieted. At the temple’s mouth, priests tossed two black and two white falcons into the sky. They fluttered north, east, south and west, cawing Khufu’s appearance to the Gods in heaven’s quarters.

  Khufu’s entourage started up the causeway. Citizens thrashed for every inch closer to their God-king so he might answer their screams if merely with his glance. Some threw themselves at him only to flop like beached fish on others’ shoulders. Guards beat them back with the shaft of their spears.

  Mehi shouldered past a woman on his left. To his right, he hooked his elbow into the midriff of a man and wedged himself forward. To get inside. Through the writhing and tangling bodies, Mehi made out God-king Khufu crossing the line of the twelve-foot tall pillars. Temple shadows eclipsed Khufu as citizens inside hailed him with, “Khufu, Khufu, Khufu.”

  Head low, Mehi burrowed through sweaty arms, hips and shoulders. “Khufu” chanted again and again. The sun pressed down on him with the weight of time’s passing.

  How much later Mehi didn’t know, his feet clapped limestone. Raising his head, he saw himself inside the temple. He never would have imagined such grace. Sunlight spiking between the mudbrick pillars behind him dazzled the air as luminous as the white, polished limestone floor it struck. The encircling, red quartzite colonnade also glowed. Mehi then saw the temple stone not simply glowing but radiant. It threw back the blinds of a window onto heaven. Temple and heaven coincided. It broke Mehi. Broke him as out of a cocoon. With new beautiful eyes, he meant to, had to, soak up the whole of it at once.

  A cordon of fifty guards with spears restrained him and three hundred other commoners from Khufu enthroned erect on his palanquin at the center of the colonnade’s circle: the Heb-Sed court. In ancient times, if the God-king failed his Heb-Sed, citizens destroyed him so that the divine magic might survive for them in his successor.

  Fifty yards away on the eastern arc arrayed the regional gods, the “Forty-one,” including God Anpu standing with Ma’at, feline-headed Goddess Bastet, ibis-beaked God Djahuty, and ram-headed God Khnum forming Khufu’s spiritual twin, his ka, on the potter’s wheel. Khufu must prove himself not only to his citizens but also to the Forty-one. They inspected the God-king while alo
ng the north arc, one of Khufu’s six princes and two princesses praise poetry of Egypt and their father.

  The one God absent was Ptah. His High-priest Ptah-Du-Au, wearing white linen and not the Ptah vestments, scowled at Khufu from the temple’s west shadows. Mehi grimaced that the High-priest wasn’t more grateful to witness this splendor. This belly of heaven. This heaven on earth.

  “Khufu, Khufu, Khufu.”

  Standing forward of the other royal children, Ka’ab addressed his father. His voice was thick. “Because God Ra sired you, you have come. Because you raise the Nile annually, you arrive. Because the Nile grants us life too beautiful to die, you continue.”

  Staring into Khufu’s eyes, Mehi glimpsed a blackness both lush and vast. It was the black of closed eyes where afterglow danced, or the black of home where loved ones slept, or the black of night where falling stars streaked.

  The God-king bolted up, his feet fixed wide. Even at rest he seemed active. His muscles pulsed. Or was it the rush of blood engorging his flesh? How majestic. How like a human lion.

  “Khufu, Khufu, Khufu.” The louder Mehi screamed, the clearer he heard the others’ screams.

  Thick-legged Khufu paraded alone in the court. He unfastened his skirt, revealing a loincloth, no different than the one Mehi wore. ”Khufu.” He marched up to the boundary stone that indicated his Heb-Sed, a rite that embodied the first God-kings’ circuiting of the White Wall in Hituptah—Egypt’s first capital—and, with it, prove that his physique retained God Ra’s magic.

  Eyes fierce, the God-king started at a trot. His cheeks shook with his footfalls. Damp footprints trailed him. Circuiting inside the colonnade in heat swelled by the cramped bodies, Khufu’s sweat flowed. At each increase of speed, the audience’s breaths pitched higher. He leaned forward. Gods bent toward him. Mehi’s breath surged hot in and out of his lungs, rasping his tongue and lips. His heartbeat rapped in rhythm to Khufu’s quickening strides. Sweat swamped both of them like the Inundation. As the wet God-king crossed alternately into sunlight between columns and into the shade behind, he flashed bright then dark then bright. Like day into night into day …

  “Khufu, Khufu, Khufu” pummeled the pillars and floor. Citizens punched the air or grappled neighbors. The chant outside thundered from a crowd that must now number in the tens of thousands.

  The God-king sprang at full bloom, his testament of granting Egypt life. He approached and passed the citizens and Mehi. Mehi jumped and jumped, drawing up those so jammed onto him that they also left their feet.

  In his final arc completing the circle, Khufu unfurled his arms like a falcon taking flight, causing Mehi to sense himself rising from the ground like God Ra escaping the Underworld. The God-king passed the end boundary stone.

  Anthems of “New Khufu, New Egypt,” too massive for the temple, cascaded into Mehi’s bones and gut. He felt them as much as heard them.

  Vizier Ka’ab came forth. “As the sun is reborn at dawn, the Netri power is reborn in God-king Khufu. Not mortal man, but magical god.”

  “New, new, Khufu, Egypt.”

  Settling into a shaft of sunlight in the Heb-Sed’s center, shining Khufu showed a palm that silenced the cheers. His words throbbed like a chorus of bass harps. “On this our dawn, I ensure plentiful water to soothe the skin and wet the lovers’ kiss. Crops will grow in numbers to rival the stars. O, all who do obeisance to God-king Khufu shall receive water and comfort, cattle and warmth, bread and love.” Khufu then smacked the back of his hand, cracking an alarm across the temple. “And you shall do for me everything I command, wherever I go. If I am reviled, then God Ra will be reviled, for I descend from God Ra. I am the Horus, the living god.”

  “New, new.”

  Mehi glanced at Ptah-Du-Au. The High-priest, face grim, did not watch Khufu but instead surveyed the commoners. His eyes passed coldly over Mehi. Shutting down a shiver, Mehi re-focused on Khufu and with a wrecked voice sang, “Our twin rising, you and me.”

  Vizier Ka’ab draped his father with the green satin cape of fertility. Khufu mounted the dais’s three steps, cape unfurling along the limestone. Motionless a moment, he then swiveled around to the citizens.

  “Khufu, Egypt.”

  To Mehi, Khufu arose on earth but stood in heaven, his flesh gold, bones silver, eyes bearing sun and moon. “Your love kisses away mortal pain from me. The god on earth is peace.”

  The God-king assumed his place upon the throne.

  Arms waving, citizens howled, “New, New.” Most wept.

  While the regional Gods cleared Their throats, preparing to offer Their homage to the God-king and to receive land grants from him, God-king Khufu gazed over his citizens. Just then, for one second, one ecstatic second, Khufu’s eyes held Mehi’s eye. Mehi was positive of it. It felt like sunlight and mercy. His bones warming, evaporating the muck of his brother’s pre-dawn ambush, Mehi’s heart buoyed feather-light. Certainly Khufu had exorcised his guilt. Blessed mercy. About to leap up and shout his redeemer’s name, Mehi heard, “Ptah.”

  Five feet from Mehi, a young man breached the cordon. He raged toward the God-king. A guard’s spear whirred past his ear.

  “Ptah.”

  God and commoner gasped. Mehi’s heart twisted. The young man swung a copper chisel above his head, charging at Khufu and screeching, “Ptah created the world and me.” No one else made a sound. Khufu reared on his throne. Vizier Ka’ab and a second prince launched onto the floor to cut off the attacker. A third prince on a cane limped after. “Ptah created the world.” Gods tore off Their masks. Just behind the attacker, the vizier chased. Mehi’s body strained, willing the vizier to run faster. “Ptah.” Marking the attacker closing on the dais, guards slackened their grips on their spears. In the lost restraint, citizens tumbled to the floor. “Ptah.” The young man reached the dais. He hopped onto it, aiming the chisel’s point at Khufu’s chest. “Ptah.” Khufu crouched, crossing his arms to deflect the blow. Ka’ab from the floor clutched the attacker’s knees and yanked his feet from beneath him. Falling, chisel swinging wildly, the attacker curled toward Ka’ab and then banged down in sitting position on the dais. Vizier Ka’ab poised motionless.

  The second prince grabbed the attacker’s feet and wrenched him off the dais.

  Mehi saw crimson gleam along the chisel’s eight inches. He searched with hope for any wound on the attacker. As the second prince and the attacker wrestled on the floor, Vizier Ka-ab slammed onto his back beside them. Blood coursed from a gash across his breast. Mehi flung out his hand to stop the bleeding.

  Citizens slapped their faces or fell to their knees, their wails echoing throughout the temple. Mehi’s palms itched, his eyes burned. Despite his knees locking, he wanted to run, somewhere.

  The attacker cocked his weapon again—above the prince. Khufu bounded from the dais and grasped the attacker’s wrist. With a short jerk, Khufu snapped the bone. The chisel clanged onto the stone floor. Fingers at the attacker’s throat, Khufu lifted him from the floor before casting him to the guards. Khufu then collapsed to his knees, gathering Ka-ab in his arms.

  Vivid against the white limestone, the vizier’s blood oozed without direction or purpose. He didn’t move except to slump deeper into his father’s arms. Khufu slipped an arm from behind his son. He gaped at blood on his hand.

  Citizens hurled curses at the attacker and prayers to the vizier and God-king. Guards fought against their surging. The side of a spear bashed Mehi’s thigh and knocked him to his knees. From the limestone, darkness chilled his bones as if Ammit, devourer of hearts that sinned against ma’at, rose over him. The assassin had emerged from Mehi’s midst like the tomb-robber had emerged from his family.

  He struggled up to see High-priest Ptah-Du-Au rotate and amble off—the first and only to leave.

  Mehi shifted his eyes to his God-king and vizier.

  Cheek on Ka’ab’s chest, Khufu cradled his son and rocked slowly on the limestone. The God-king had fallen in full surrender to mortality. A
wretched collapse. This displayed for Mehi the rupture of order between himself and his father. Had the connections between all fathers and sons shattered? Was ma’at in collapse?

 
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