The anubis gates, p.1
The Anubis Gates, p.1Tim Powers
The Anubis Gates
Fantasy Masterworks Volume 45
Table of Contents
Book One - The Face Under the Fur
Prologue: February 2, 1802
Book Two - The Twelve Hours of the Night
Epilogue: April 12, 1846
About the Author
BOOK ONE—The Face Under the Fur
PROLOGUE: FEBRUARY 2,1802
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…”
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
From between two trees at the crest of the hill a very old man watched, with a nostalgic longing he thought he’d lost all capacity for, as the last group of picnickers packed up their baskets, mounted their horses, and rode away south—they moved a little hastily, for it was a good six miles back to London, and the red sun was already silhouetting the branches of the trees along the River Brent, two miles to the west.
When they’d gone the old man turned around to watch the sun’s slow descent. The Boat of Millions of Years, he thought; the boat of the dying sungod Ra, tacking down the western sky to the source of the dark river that runs through the underworld from west to east, through the twelve hours of the night, at the far eastern end of which the boat will tomorrow reappear, bearing a once again youthful, newly reignited sun.
Or, he thought bitterly, removed from us by a distance the universe shouldn’t even be able to encompass, it’s a vast motionless globe of burning gas, around which this little ball of a planet rolls like a pellet of dung propelled by a kephera beetle.
Take your pick, he told himself as he started slowly down the hill… But be willing to die for your choice.
He had to walk carefully, for his Japanese clogs were awkward on the uneven dirt and grass.
Fires were already lit among the tents and wagons, and a weaving of wild odors whirled up to him on the cool evening breeze: a sharp, earthy reek from the tethered donkeys, wood smoke, and the aroma of roasting hedgehog, a dish his people particularly relished. Faintly, too, he thought he caught a whiff of stale breath from the crate that had arrived that afternoon—a musty fetor, as of perverse spices meant to elicit aversion rather than appetite, almost shockingly incongruous when carried on the clean breezes of Hampstead Heath. As he approached the cluster of tents he was met by a couple of the camp dogs; as always, they backed away from him when they recognized him, and one turned around and loped purposefully to the nearest tent; the other, with evident reluctance, escorted Amenophis Fikee into the camp.
Responding to the dog’s summons, a dark man in a striped corduroy coat stepped out of the tent and strode across the grass toward Fikee. Like the dogs, he halted well short of the old man. “Good evening, rya,” he said. “Will you eat some dinner? They’ve got a hotchewitchi on the fire, smells very kushto.”
“As kushto as hotchewitchi ever does smell, I suppose,” Fikee muttered absently. “But no, thank you. You all help yourselves.”
“Not I, rya—my Bessie always loved cooked hotchewitchi; so since she mullered I don’t eat it anymore.”
Fikee nodded, though he obviously hadn’t been listening. “Very well, Richard.” He paused as though hoping for an interruption, but none came. “When the sun is all the way down, have some of the chals carry that crate down the bank to the tent of Doctor Romany.”
The gypsy scratched his oiled moustache and shifted doubtfully. “The crate that the sailor chal brought today?”
“Which crate did you think I meant, Richard? Yes, that one.”
“The chals don’t like it, rya. They say there’s something in it mullo dusta beshes, dead many years.”
Amenophis Fikee frowned and pulled his cloak closer about himself. He had left the last rays of sunlight behind him at the top of the hill, and among these shadows his craggy face seemed to possess no more vitality than a stone or tree trunk. At last he spoke: “Well, what’s in it has seen dusta beshes, certainly—many many years.” He gave the timorous gypsy a smile that was like a section of hillside falling away to expose old white stone. “But it’s not mullo, I’m… I hope. Not quite mullo.”
This did nothing to reassure the gypsy, who opened his mouth to voice another respectful objection; but Fikee had turned away and was stalking through the clearing toward the riverbank, his cloak flapping behind him in the wind like the wing-case of some gigantic insect.
The gypsy sighed and slouched away toward one of the tents, practicing a limp that would, he hoped, earn him a dispensation from actually having to help carry the dreadful crate.
Fikee slowly picked his way along the darkening riverbank toward Doctor Romany’s tent. Except for the hoarse sighing of the breeze the evening was oddly silent. The gypsies seemed to realize that something momentous was in the wind tonight, and were slinking about as silently as their dogs, and even the lizards had stopped hopping and splashing among the riverside reeds.
The tent stood in a clearing, at the focus of enough lines and rigging—slung from every nearby tree—for a good-sized ship. The angling ropes, assisted by a dozen upright poles, supported the flapping, bulging, many-layered randomness of Romany’s tent. It looked, thought Fikee, like some huge nun in a particularly cold-weather habit, crouched beside the river in obscure devotion.
Ducking under a couple of ropes, he made his way to the entrance and lifted aside the curtain, and stepped through into the central room, blinking in the brightness that the dozen lamps cast on the draped carpets which formed the walls, floor and ceiling.
Doctor Romany stood up from a table, and Fikee felt a wave of hopeless envy. Why, Fikee asked venomously, hadn’t it been Romanelli who picked that short straw in Cairo last September? Fikee pulled off his drab cloak and hat and flung them in a corner. His bald head gleamed like imperfectly polished ivory in the lamplight.
Romany crossed the room, bobbing grotesquely on his high, spring-soled shoes, and gripped him by the hand. “It’s a great thing we—you—attempt tonight,” he said in a deep muted voice. “I only wish I could be here with you in person.”
Fikee shrugged, a little impatiently. “We are both servants. My post is England, yours is Turkey. I completely understand why it is that you can be present tonight only”—he waved vaguely—”in replica.”
“Needless to say,” Romany intoned, his voice becoming deeper as though trying to wring an echo out of the surrounding carpets, “if it happens that you die tonight, rest assured you will be embalmed and entombed with all the proper ceremonies and prayers.”
“If I fail,” Fikee answered, “there won’t be anybody to pray to.”
“I didn’t say fail. It could be that you will succeed in opening the gates, but die in accomplishing it,” the unruffled Romany pointed out. “In such a case you’d want the proper actions taken.”
“Very well,” said Fikee with a weary nod. “Good,” he added.
There was a sound of shuffling feet from the entry, and then an anxious voice. “Rya? Where would you like the crate? Hurry, I think spirits are coming out of the river to see what’s in it!”
“Not at all unlikely,” muttered Doctor Romany as Fikee instructed the gypsies to carry the thing inside and set it down on the floor. This they hastily did, making th
The two very old men stared at the crate in silence for a time, then Fikee stirred and spoke. “I’ve instructed my gypsies that in my… absence, they are to regard you as their chief.”
Romany nodded, then bent over the crate and began wrenching the top boards away. After tossing aside some handfuls of crumpled paper he carefully lifted out a little wooden box tied up with string. He set it on the table. Turning back to the crate, he knocked away the rest of the loosened boards and, grunting with effort, lifted out a paper-wrapped package which he laid on the floor. It was roughly square, three feet on each side and six inches thick.
He looked up and said, “The Book,” unnecessarily, for Amenophis Fikee knew what it was.
“If only he could do it, in Cairo,” he whispered.
“Heart of the British kingdom,” Doctor Romany reminded him. “Or maybe you imagine he could travel?”
Fikee shook his head, and, crouched beside the table, lifted from under it a glass globe with a slide-away section in its side. He set it on the table and then began undoing the knots on the small wooden box. Romany meanwhile had stripped away the package’s paper covering, exposing a black wooden box with bits of ivory inlaid to form hundreds of Old Kingdom Egyptian hieroglyphics. The latch was leather, and so brittle that it crumbled to dust when Romany tried to unfasten it. Inside was a blackened silver box with similar hieroglyphic characters in relief; and when he’d lifted away the lid of that one a gold box lay exposed to view, its finely worked surface blazing in the lamplight.
Fikee had gotten the little wooden box open, and held up a cork-stoppered glass vial that had been nested in cotton inside. The vial contained perhaps an ounce of a thick black fluid that seemed to have sediment in it.
Doctor Romany took a deep breath, then lifted back the lid of the gold box.
At first Doctor Romany thought all the lamps had been simultaneously extinguished, but when he glanced at them he saw that their flames stood as tall as before. But nearly all the light was gone—it was as though he now viewed the room through many layers of smoked glass. He pulled his coat closer about his throat; the warmth had diminished too.
For the first time that night he felt afraid. He forced himself to look down at the book that lay in the box, the book that had absorbed the room’s light and warmth. Hieroglyphic figures shone from ancient papyrus—shone not with light but with an intense blackness that seemed about to suck out his soul through his eyes. And the meanings of the figures darted clearly and forcefully into his mind, as they would have done even to someone who couldn’t read the primeval Egyptian script, for they were written here in the world’s youth by the god Thoth, the father and spirit of language itself. He tore his gaze fearfully away, for he could feel the words burning marks on his soul like a baptism.
“The blood,” he rasped, and even the capacity of the air to carry sounds seemed weakened. “Our Master’s blood,” he repeated to the dimly seen figure that was Amenophis Fikee. “Put it into the sphere.”
He could just see Fikee thumb aside the hatch in the side of the globe and hold the vial to the opening before uncorking it; the black fluid spilled inside, falling upward, staining the top of the glass globe. The moon must be up, Romany realized. A drop fell up onto Fikee’s palm, and must have burned, for he hissed sharply between his teeth.
“You’re… on your own,” croaked Doctor Romany, and lurched blindly out of the tent into the clearing, where the evening air felt warm by comparison. He blundered away up the riverbank, yawing and pitching on his peculiar shoes, and finally crouched, panting and bobbing, on a slight rise fifty yards upstream and looked back at the tent.
As his breathing and heartbeat decelerated he thought about his glimpse of the Book of Thoth, and shuddered. If any evidence were needed to document the inversion of sorcery during the last eighteen centuries, that prehistoric book provided it; for though he’d never actually seen it before, Romany knew that when the Prince Setnau Kha-em-Uast had, thousands of years ago, descended into the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka at Memphis to recover it, he had found the burial chamber brightly illuminated by the light that radiated from the book.
And this spell, he thought unhappily, this tremendous effort tonight, would have been almost prohibitively dangerous even in those days, before sorcery became so much more difficult and personally costly to the sorcerer, and, despite the most rigid control, unpredictable and twisted in its results. Even in those days, he thought, none but the bravest and most transcendently competent priest would have dared to employ the hekau, the words of power, that Fikee was going to speak tonight: the words which were an invocation and an invitation to possession addressed to the dog-headed deity Anubis—or whatever might remain of him now—who, in the time of Egypt’s power, presided over the underworld and the gates from this world to the other.
Doctor Romany let his gaze break away from the tent and drift across the river to the heathery landscape that rolled beyond it up to another rise crested with trees that seemed to him too tall for their girth, waving their emaciated branches in the breeze. A northern landscape, he thought, stirred by a wind that’s like flowing gin, sharp and clean and smelling of berries.
Reacting to the alien qualities of these things, he thought of the voyage to Cairo, he and Fikee had taken four months before, summoned by their Master to assist in the new crisis.
Though prevented by a startling disorder from ever leaving his house, their Master had for quite a while been using a secret army of agents, and an unchartably vast fortune, in an effort to purge Egypt of the Moslem and Christian taints and, even more difficult, to throw out the governing Turkish Pasha and his foreign mercenaries, restoring Egypt as an independent world power. It was the Battle of the Pyramids four years ago that provided the first real breakthrough for him, though at the time it had seemed the final defeat—for it had let the French into Egypt. Romany narrowed his eyes, remembering the rippling crackle of the French muskets echoing from the Nile on that hot July afternoon, underscored by the drum-roll of the charging Mameluke cavalry … by nightfall the armies of the Egyptian governors Ibraheem and Murad Bey had been broken, and the French, under the young general Napoleon, were in possession.
A wild and agonized howl brought Doctor Romany to his feet; the sound rebounded among the trees by the river for several seconds, and when it had died he could hear a gypsy fearfully muttering protective cantrips. No further sounds issued from the tent, and Romany let out his breath and resumed his crouching position. Good luck, Amenophis, he thought—I’d say “may the gods be with you,” but that’s what you’re deciding right now. He shook his head uneasily.
When the French came into power it had seemed like the end of any hope of restoring the old order, and their Master had, by hard-wrought sorcerous manipulation of wind and tides, lent subtle aid to the British admiral Nelson when he destroyed the French fleet less than two weeks later. But then the French occupation turned to their Master’s advantage; the French curtailed the arrogant power of the Mameluke Beys, and in 1800 drove out the Turkish mercenaries who’d been strangling the country. And the general who took command of Cairo when Napoleon returned to France, Kleber, didn’t interfere with their Master’s political intrigues and his efforts to lure the Moslem and Coptic population back into the old pantheist worship of Osiris, Isis, Horus and Ra. It looked, in fact, as though the French occupation would do for Egypt what Jenner’s cowpox was evidently doing now for human bodies: substituting a manageable infection, which could be easily eliminated after a while, for a deadly one that would relent only upon the death of the host.
Then, of course, it began to go wrong. Some lunatic from Aleppo stabbed Kleber to death in a Cairo street, and in the ensuing months of confusion the British took up the slack; by September of 1801 Kleber’s inept successor had capitulated to the British in Cairo and Alexandria. The British were in, and a single week saw the arrest of a dozen of the Master’s agents. The new Briti
In desperation their Master sent for his two oldest and most powerful lieutenants, Amenophis Fikee from England and Doctor Monboddo Romanelli from Turkey, and unveiled to them the plan that, though fantastic to a degree that suggested senility in the ancient man, was, he insisted, the only way to scorch England from the world picture and restore Egypt’s eons-lost ascendancy.
They had met him in the huge chamber in which he lived, alone except for his ushabtis, four life-size wax statues of men. From his peculiar ceiling perch he had begun by pointing out that Christianity, the harsh sun that had steamed the life-juices out of the now all but dry husk of sorcery, was at present veiled by clouds of doubt arising from the writings of people like Voltaire and Diderot and Godwin.
Romanelli, as impatient with the antique magician’s extended metaphors as he was with most things, broke in to ask bluntly how all this might aid in evicting the British from Egypt.
“There is a magical procedure—” the Master began.
“Magic!” Romanelli had interrupted, as scornfully as he dared. “These days we’d get headaches and double vision—not to mention losing about five pounds—if we tried to charm a pack of street dogs out of our way; and even then as likely as not it’d go awry and they’d all simply drop dead where they stood. It’s easier to shout and wave a stick at them. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten how you suffered after playing with the weather at the Bay of Aboukeer three years ago. Your eyes withered up like dates left too long in the sun, and your legs—!”
“As you say, I haven’t forgotten,” said the Master coldly, turning those partially recovered eyes on Romanelli, who involuntarily shivered, as always, before the almost imbecilic hatred that burned in them. “As it happens, although I’ll be present by proxy, one of you must perform this spell, for it has to be sited very near the heart of the British Empire, which would be the city of London, and my condition forbids travel. Though I’ll provide you with all the strongest remaining wards and protective amulets, the working of it will, as you suggest, consume quite a bit of the sorcerer. You will draw straws from the cloth on that table, and the man with the short straw will be the one to do it.”
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes