Horus: Chapter 2
HORUS TRAVELED OUT of the Delta and into the western desert beyond the marsh's border. He walked the whole way, skirting deeper puddles and always watching for snakes or crocodiles that tended to hide in clumps of papyrus. Reia had not needed to pack him food; he'd brought his throw-stick, in case he got hungry for duck, and carried several hooks for fishing, rather than a large cumbersome spear. He carried no weapons; he'd decided the throw-stick would be weapon enough, should he need it. He hoped he wouldn't.
He reached the desert edge almost before he knew it and stopped, surprised. In Kemet, the land was of two types: the green strips along the river and in the Delta, and the desert lying beyond that. Horus had never been in the desert. He blinked at the vast expanse of rock and sand ahead of him, almost blinded. He stepped forward and could feel the heat burning through his sandals.
Tall rock cliffs shimmered in the distance, lit by the midmorning sun.
Horus frowned and squatted, picking up a pebble and rolling it between his fingers. If he tried crossing now, he'd never make it without collapsing, someone as unused to the desert as he was. He would have to wait until nightfall, and then he would barely see his way, unless...
He frowned again. In the back of his head, he had the feeling he wasn't alone. He stood quickly and whirled around, grabbing the throw-stick and bringing it back over his shoulder.
A large antelope, dusty gray and with wide curling horns, snorted and pawed the earth at the edge of the desert several yards away. It shook its head, and Horus saw something sparkle on its face. A harness. Leather reins hung down over its neck.
Horus lowered the stick. Where had this animal come from? It wore a harness; it must be tame. Though he'd never heard of anyone riding an antelope before. However, it was here, and he supposed he could try riding it to the western cliffs, seeing as nobody else seemed to be around to claim it.
He held up his hand and approached it slowly, speaking in a soft voice.
The kudu raised its head and watched him with a sort of mild curiosity. It didn't run away, and let him put his hand on its muzzle. It snorted and shook its head again, as if impatient to be going.
Horus smiled. "You're right. I suppose we should get going."
He grabbed the fur at the base of the animal's neck and pulled himself up. The kudu tottered a little, as if unused to carrying any passengers; then it turned to the right and started trotting docilely in the direction of the cliffs. Horus picked up the reins and noticed the gilded gold harness. Where the straps of leather met were inset small chips of turquoise. Whoever owned this animal must have more wealth than anyone in Horus's village.
He pressed his feet to its sides. The kudu sped up, loping easily across the burning sand. Horus could see the tall dark cliffs growing larger by the minute.
These weren't like the usual limestone or sandstone cliffs Horus had heard lined the river to the south. They were coal black, rising like shards of obsidian from the coarse yellow sand and rock. It looked like some giant had plucked them out of a jet-black place in the darkest Duat only to plunk them down in the middle of the desert. The result was that they seemed totally out of place here.
For a time he watched the cliffs get closer, until the kudu finally came to a stop not too far from their base. Horus dismounted and shielded his eyes, trying to see the top. A blank wall greeted him; there were no signs of any temple. He hadn't even known there were supposed to be cliffs here.
He glanced back at the kudu. For the first time he noticed what exactly had caused the glittering he'd thought was the harness. He went for a closer look, and reached out to trace his fingers over a small gold insignia that spanned the creature's forehead. A sun disk with wings outspread.
He puzzled over it a moment.
The kudu snorted and turned away, walking along the bottom of the cliff a ways, before turning to the side and disappearing.
Horus shook his head. What--! There had to be some kind of niche or crevice there he hadn't noticed before. He jogged after the kudu, running his hand along the rock, but found nothing. He could see its hoofprints in the sand, but they only led up to the cliff.
As if the animal had just walked through!
He couldn't believe that. Things couldn't pass through stone! Not unless they were drills! And he found it equally ludicrous to think the kudu had drilled its way through the stone with its horns.
Well, it must have done something!
He looked up again. There was no way to climb. Downwards, no tunnels. Nothing to left and right but rock and wide-open desert, and in front of him the sheer cliff face, which he reached out to touch just to make sure it was there--
He gasped and drew back his hand when the surface of the stone started to ripple like water disturbed by a leaping fish. What had that been? He hadn't felt the warm hard surface he'd expected, but a very slight, cool resistance, as of silken strands of a spiderweb turned to water at his touch. When he realized his hand wasn't hurt, he gingerly reached out and touched the stone again.
And again, the rippling; only this time he didn't pull back, and the ripples lit up in all shades of blue, sparkling like water in sunlight. The stone started to give way--no, it started to disappear, not fading but almost pulling away from his hand, sucking in at the edges and into the rest of the cliff face. For before him now was no longer the blank rock of the cliff, but instead what appeared to be a massive pylon, carved with figures of gods which rose far over Horus, dwarfing him. Where the giant double doors in a normal temple would be, instead loomed a yawning empty space, blacker even than the surrounding rock, leading deep into the bowels of the cliff. The image clarified and solidified, and Horus was left staring at the image carved above the pylon, a sun disk with wings outspread.
Horus thought, It's just like the one on the kudu.
The kudu had known where to turn. That must mean it had been sent for him. This had to be the temple he'd been told to find.
Taking a breath, making sure his throw-stick was still tucked at his side, he stepped inside the building.
Oil lamps, their cloth wicks flaming, were set up on small stone tables at intervals along both sides of a cavernous room Horus guessed must be a courtyard. The closest thing to a real temple he'd seen before was the occasional village shrine, built of reeds and holding a small statue hidden within. All stone temples were supposed to be based on the same basic design. Still, that had hardly prepared him for this.
He entered a hypostyle hall lined closely with carved columns rising up at his sides. Their tops were lost in the darkness hovering above. From a doorway ahead came a flickering light, unlike the little oil lamps with their yellow glow; this glowed blue as lapis, glittering with gold. Horus headed for the glow.
In the back of the temple, where should have been the sanctuary with the naos holding the resident god's statue, instead was another room, not very long from front to back, but with its sides vanishing into shadow. Horus stepped inside and glanced around, puzzled. He couldn't find the source of the glow he'd seen.
Horus spun around. The glow, tinged with gold, reappeared at the further end of the room. It grew from the size of a small ball, growing taller and thinner, until it assumed a human shape, about Horus's size. Then the glow seemed to shatter like glass, tiny shards of light falling to the ground and vanishing as they struck. Horus brought his hand down from his eyes and blinked in the sudden dimness.
A man stood before him, looking at him through eyes that were both kind and wise, eyes that looked as though they'd seen the Day of the First Time, when the mound of creation rose out of the watery chaos of Nunu. Looking at him, Horus didn't doubt he had been there. This man was aged, leaning on an animal-headed staff, his limbs thin and his features worn. He wore a pristine white kilt trimmed with gold, and a small cobra diadem upon his head. But what drew Horus's attention were his eyes. They were not the eyes of a man. They were the eyes of a hawk, and the sharp curving beak of a hawk, and the features of a hawk, all endowed with a supernatural intelligence. This could be none other than a god, whose temple Horus had entered.
At first Horus couldn't find his voice, caught behind the awe in his throat. When the god didn't speak, but only smiled at him, Horus swallowed and whispered, "Who are you?"
The hawk-headed god put one hand to his breast, tilting his head as if in a bow. "Lord Harakhte, your namesake, young Horus."
Harakhte. "Horus of the Horizon," Horus whispered.
Harakhte tilted his head again.
Horus wanted to kneel--he knew he should--yet somehow his knees wouldn't work. The god before him didn't seem to mind. He turned from him and gestured over his shoulder.
"Come," he said. "Follow me. I have much to tell you, and little time."
Horus followed Harakhte further into the room. He nearly stopped as soon as he saw a big round pool within, lined by the same black rock of which the whole place was made. The water in the pool glowed as Harakhte himself had, blue and luminous and flecked with gold. Harakhte gestured for Horus to sit at the edge of the pool; Horus obeyed, and Harakhte started to speak, pacing slowly back and forth, his staff tapping the floor.
"You've come on word from Goddess Buto, no doubt. She did well, looking after you until she found Reia to take care of you."
"But who left me?" Horus asked. "Who were my parents? Why did they leave me in the swamp?"
Harakhte looked at him closely. "You don't know, do you? Then it's not for me to tell. You'll find out, soon enough. You were left in the swamp for your own protection. If you had stayed with your mother, you would have been killed."
"The Apsiu," Harakhte said.
"The Apsiu are commanded by the king."
Horus paused. "Then--the king wants me dead?"
"He has his reasons. You will understand them in due time. You see, your birthright lies in the south--as the throne of Kemet."
Horus's eyes widened. "The--the throne?" he stammered. "How can the throne be my birthright?"
"Through only one way." Harakhte went on before Horus could say more. "You must make the journey as quickly as possible, for he's already sent out his Kana to find you. Some of them are closer than you think. You must follow the river south until you reach the large city upon the west bank. This is where the king lives, and where you'll find your birthright. But you won't go alone."
Harakhte stepped forward and peered into the water. He looked tired, his eyes shadowed and the lines standing out on his face. "You will have followers, companions who will fight for you and help you on your quest. They have been sent out by your mother to find you before the Apsiu do. You'll meet them soon. They will be your loyal allies along the way, though in the end how your quest turns out depends on you. I must warn you, your first ally will not at first seem like one. You must be prepared for the unexpected at all times, else it will catch you before you know it. You can't let that happen. You must reach Upper Kemet, as it's your destiny."
Horus nodded, speechless.
Harakhte approached him. "Stand up, young Horus. You still wear the sidelock of youth, though you've reached your eighteenth year. It's time you've learned who you really are."
Horus numbly obeyed. Harakhte pulled a knife from his kilt and, reaching up, sliced off the lock of hair hanging at Horus's right temple. Horus flinched as he did it; there was something so final about the motion.
Harakhte held up the lock. "This is who you were." He tossed it into the pool, and the water began to ripple and glow brighter. Harakhte touched Horus's forehead with his finger, then pointed to the pool.
"Look," he ordered.
Horus did. He looked into the water and saw his own face, his eyes wide with fear and awe. The waves swirled faster. Then, as he watched, his face began to change, he began to change, his features growing sharper, wilder. His nose and mouth elongated, changing into a black hooked beak. His eyes grew rounder, larger, darker; black, white, and gray feathers started to sprout from his face. With the change he felt as if a jolt of lightning had surged through his body; he threw back his head and screamed, the scream changing to that of a hawk on the wing before breaking off as the glow dimmed and he fell to his knees, his head thrumming. For a moment he knelt panting, overwhelmed; he felt Harakhte take his arm and gently help him to his feet. Horus shook his head, blinked, and looked around him.
The same temple room faced him, though he was seeing it differently now, through new eyes; every flicker of every shadow caught his attention, every subtle shade and nuance of color and light standing out as it never had before. He could even make out carvings on the walls in the dim light, and looking up he could see the roof of the temple, far above him in swirling mists. He could almost see his own breath on the air, and felt all he had to do was concentrate before he could.
Harakhte touched his arm again, and pointed to the pool. Horus looked at him, then took a tentative step forward and peered in.
At first he couldn't understand what he was seeing. The face of a god stared back at him, a younger version of Harakhte, eyes just as wide as Horus's had been before. And then Horus realized--
"This is who you are," Harakhte said softly, from behind him.
Horus turned. He couldn't understand. He was a god? Like Harakhte, like Buto? He didn't know how to act. He didn't feel like a god--however that was supposed to feel. He didn't even know what to think.
"This must come as something of a surprise," Harakhte said, in a gentle, reassuring tone. "Still, this is who you are, and who you always have been, inside. This is yours."
He lifted a light gold diadem with uraeus, looking much like his own, only with lappets hanging down in back and at the sides. It was a crown of royalty, of divinity. He placed it upon Horus's head, straightened it a little, and smiled.
"A true prince," he said. "I have one more thing to give you."
He held up his hand. Something glimmered in his palm; Horus thought he was going to hand him a good luck trinket, when the object flashed and grew longer, forming a point at one end. It shone like a beam of sunlight in Harakhte's hand, as if he'd reached out and plucked it from the sky. It ceased glowing, but what little light there was in the room glinted off it, seemingly magnified a hundredfold. He held it out to Horus.
"Take this lance," he said. "It has a great power in it, the power to pierce even that which is protected by the gods. This is my gift to you. But use it carefully; my magic, as you can tell, is weak, and this lance will pierce with its fullest power only once. It may be used as a weapon, but each time it is used its power will diminish until it is nothing more than a weapon. Keep this in mind as you use it. I present this to you as my gift for your quest."
Horus took the lance. He ran his hand down the shaft. It felt warm beneath his touch, with the smooth polish of enchanted gold. "Thank you," he said in a quiet voice. He shifted the lance to his left hand, crossed his right arm over his chest, and bowed.
Harakhte smiled. "Why do you bow to me? We are both of us gods, you greater in power than I, though you have yet to discover that for yourself. Go now, on your quest, and remember that--"
He broke off, staring into space. Horus lifted his head and stood when he saw the look on Harakhte's face. The elder god's eyes had grown wide, his beak slightly open, as if he could see something terrible in the darkness.
"What?" Horus asked, feeling a gnawing uneasiness in his stomach. He looked also, but saw nothing but the temple. "What is it?"
"Your village," Harakhte replied, his voice faint in the depths of his vision. "Something's not right in your village."
Horus started. He turned to run for the door.
"Wait!" Horus stopped and whirled back. Harakhte whistled and from a side door Horus had overlooked before the kudu appeared, trotting into the room with its reins swinging free.
"Take him back through this side hall," Harakhte told Horus. "It will shorten your ride. Once you exit the hall you'll be back in the Delta, just to the west of your village. Go now, and remember all I've told you. Ankh! Udja! Seneb! Life, strength, health to you on your quest!"
Horus had mounted the kudu even as Harakhte spoke. The elder hawk god's words echoed after him as he turned the kudu about and galloped out and down the hall, racing back to his village.