Horus: Chapter 4
AN ENRAGED HOWL shattered the quiet. Horus gasped and brought up his lance, managing to deflect the blow. The sword went skidding to the side, only to swing back at him. He tugged on the reins, forcing the kudu's head to the side. As they pulled back Horus could finally see his attacker. It wasn't an Apsiu, but a man with the head of a wolf, a pectoral of gleaming gold and malachite around his neck, wielding a giant bronze sword. And the look on his face showed he was ready to use it.
He snarled and swung again. Horus blocked this blow as well; the sword glanced off the enchanted gold as if it were iron. The wolf-headed man looked surprised, then enraged; he let out a sound closer to a roar than a howl and swung lower.
Horus pulled the kudu aside again, trying to dodge the blow; he didn't get away in time to avoid the tip of the sword, which opened a hairline cut across the front of his left leg. The wolf-headed man grinned; he brought the sword back to strike again. Horus started to bring up his lance to defend himself when he remembered what Harakhte had told him about using its power; he reached for his throw-stick instead, hurling it with a brief prayer that his aim would be as true now as it was when hunting.
The stick connected with the man's jaw; it knocked him off balance, and he fell from his mount, which Horus realized with sudden surprise was a kudu like his, its own harness studded with malachite. He had no time to notice anything further, as the man jumped back to his feet and bellowed with pain and rage, even more furious than before. He charged and knocked Horus off his kudu with the flat of his sword.
Horus landed on his back, the breath knocked out of him. The wolf-headed man snarled and came at him. Horus looked around, panicked, searching for his lance, but it had fallen far off to his side, beyond his reach. He found himself wondering how much sa would be needed to fix this as the sword, point first, plunged downward at his breast. He shut his eyes.
And nothing happened.
A moment passed. He timidly let one eye open, still expecting the worst. But the wolf-headed man merely stood above him, staring down, surprise showing in his own eyes. The sword was still poised at Horus's chest, but not with the same conviction as before. The man suddenly stooped forward, grabbing the wadjet around Horus's neck and tugging on it.
"Where did you get this?" he demanded.
"My father gave it to me," Horus said, without thinking.
The wolf-headed man snarled. "Liar!" He stepped back, brandishing the sword. "Name yourself."
Horus sat up, but when he tried to reach for his lance the man growled and stepped closer. He held up his hands.
"I'm Horus," he said, surprised by the confidence and lack of fear in his voice. He hoped he looked as confident as he sounded. "Son of Reia, charge of Buto, named for Lord Harakhte."
He shut up. What had prompted him to say that?
The words, however, seemed to have an effect on the man. He stepped back again, looking mortified; he sheathed his sword, crossing his arm to his chest and dropping to one knee with his head bowed. "Lord Horus, forgive me. I did not recognize you."
Horus retrieved his lance and pushed himself to his feet. He approached the man, looking down at him with puzzlement. "Who are you?"
The man raised his head. When he'd apparently convinced himself Horus wasn't going to skewer him, he stood, still keeping his head bowed respectfully though he was taller than Horus was and Horus had to look up at him.
"You've never known me. I am Lord Upuat. I served your father, I hope to the best of my ability."
Horus felt as if something heavy were lifted out of his heart. Upuat was the first name Buto had mentioned. Harakhte had told him his first ally would be less than friendly. This must be one of the searchers his mother had sent out.
He stepped closer and held out his hand. Upuat glanced at it, looked undecided, then reached out and grasped Horus's arm. Horus grasped his arm back, and Upuat smiled.
"My father," Horus said. "You served my father?"
"Yes. I was one of his lieutenants, helping to protect the throne." His smile dimmed. "Though I failed in the end."
"The throne?" Horus let go of his arm. When Upuat just looked at him he asked, "Who was my father? And my mother?"
Upuat's eyes widened. "You don't know?" He shook his head. "Forgive me. You couldn't. Your mother is Isis, and your father is Osiris, Lord of Amenti."
Horus had to lean on his lance to avoid stumbling. Upuat reached out to steady him. Horus's head whirled. When Buto had told him his father dwelled in the West, he'd had no idea she meant he ruled it!
"You never guessed?" Upuat asked, looking at him closely. "The throne is rightfully yours as you're the crown prince. Lady Isis brought you to stay in the Delta until you would be old enough to take it back."
"Lord Set." Upuat's lip curled and his ears flattened. "The spawn of a netherworld fiend. If it were not your mission, I'd have deposed him long ago." He fell silent, as if deciding he'd said too much.
"He stole the throne from my father."
"Stole?" Upuat's lip curled again. "He took it. Him and his Kana. They overran the palace. They dwell in the city like rats now." He looked at Horus out of the corner of his eye. "I can tell you don't know. Your uncle, may the Devourer eat his heart, killed your father. He murdered him to take the throne. Power was what he always wanted. He swore he'd kill you, too, if he ever found you." He paused and looked upriver, to the south. "You'll have to kill him first, Horus, if you wish to live and rule Kemet as king."
The weight replaced itself in Horus's heart. Even when he'd been fighting Upuat, the thought of having to kill him had been almost more than he could bear. This Set--apparently he had killed Horus's father, but he was his uncle--and he had the Apsiu on his side. Even if he had the resolve to kill him, would he be able?
How he wished he were still simply Horus, son of Reia!
"Your mother sent us," Upuat said, as if just remembering. He turned toward the trees, where they grew thicker ahead, and flicked his hand. Horus looked in that direction to see several figures emerge from behind the trees, leading kudus of their own. There were two women and a man, followed by a wolf; Horus could now tell they were like himself, divine, with their animal features, the man with the face of a jackal, the women with the faces of a lioness and a lynx. They all stared at him with some curiosity and he felt like fidgeting. Aside from his diadem, they were all dressed better than he was, with jeweled pectorals and armlets, the women with large gold earrings the shape of crescent moons. The women wore long tight dresses slit at the side to allow them to ride, the lioness woman in red and the lynx woman in green. Both Upuat and the jackal-headed man wore white pleated kilts trimmed with gold and blue, with bull tails hanging in back. They gathered around him and he felt even more awkward with his simple kilt, smudged with dirt, and nothing but his wadjet and diadem for jewelry. Which was why he nearly wanted to run away when they bowed before him, all tilting their heads forward as if he wore the finest gold and linen in the land. Even the wolf lowered its forequarters, placing its head on the ground.
Horus did fidget now, glancing at Upuat, silently asking for help.
"Goddess Sakhmet, Goddess Maftet," Upuat said. The lioness goddess rose, then the lynx goddess; they crossed their arms to their chests and dipped their heads, their earrings swaying. "Lord Khenti Amenti."
The wolf grumbled. "'Lord,' he calls me. Funny, no one treats me as a lord." He scuffed his paws in the dust and muttered a little but kept his head down.
"Lord Anubis," Upuat said, gesturing to the jackal god, who didn't bow his head, but stepped forward, looking at Horus with a light in his eyes. Upuat glanced at them both, then added, "Your brother."
Horus shot a surprised look at Upuat, then at Anubis. Brother? Anubis only smiled, grasping Horus's arm as Upuat had.
"You have no idea how long we've waited for you," he said.
"Eighteen years, in fact," Khenti Amenti murmured. Maftet nudged him with her foot and he scowled.
Horus looked at Upuat again. He wasn't even sure what to ask, he was so overwhelmed by everything.
Upuat's answering smile was slight and wry. "You have questions for us. Understandable. But seeing as the Apsiu are still after us, we'd best be heading back now." He turned back to his kudu. "Don't worry. We'll tell you all you need to know along the way."