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Horus: Chapter 8


AS ANTAKH HAD promised, Horus and the others were well taken care of, with the Apsiu preparing a feast out in the open, playing music on flutes and drums, making them forget their mission for a while. They slept more soundly than they had in days, not having to worry about the Kana; and when they awoke in the morning Janaa was already overseeing the Apsiu as they prepared several Sha for carrying packs of food and leather waterskins which they filled from the springs.

"We have armor and weapons," Antakh said to Horus as the Sha were being directed to the side of the ravine. "We don't use them much, so you could take what you need."

Horus started to decline, but Upuat caught his eye. "We could use armor," the wolf god said. "The Kana have it; we don't. The best we can do are shields."

Antakh nodded at his captains. They left, and returned carrying armor of small overlapping metal plates and large shields.

"These are made from the hides of Sha," Antakh said. "They're tougher than cowhide. The Kana used to fight with stone weapons but they're using metal now. These shields can better withstand that."

"Thank you," Horus said, as the others strapped on their armor. It protected their chests and backs; the captains also handed them leather leg-guards. Janaa gave Maftet a new quiver full of arrows, and strapped another two to a Sha.

"Would you join us?" Anubis asked. "We could use your help when we get back to the city."

"It's not like Set's going to put out the welcome mat," Khenti said.

Antakh tipped his head and shook it. "I'm afraid we can't join you. Our place is here, else we would be glad to help you in the south. I hope what we've done is enough."

Horus nodded. He and Antakh saluted each other, then he and the others turned to their kudus and climbed up. Khenti started jumping and trotting in circles, dashing off up the trail they'd first come down, Horus and the others following, leading the loaded Sha behind them. Horus looked over his shoulder as they ascended, and saw both Antakh and Janaa raise their hands in farewell. All of the villagers were watching them until the ravine was cut out of sight by the trees.

They traveled out of the oasis into the west this time, crossing the desert to the cliffs and taking a pass Antakh had described for them. The going was difficult, as Anubis had pointed out, but it was made easier by the fact that they knew which trail to follow, something they wouldn't have known if they hadn't stopped at the oasis.

They stopped as the sun was setting to eat some of the bread and dried fish and meat the Apsiu had given them, then went to sleep with Khenti prowling around.

The next day was much the same as before, the small caravan winding around narrow treacherous rock paths, going down into little ravines and up again. The cliffs may have turned all sorts of glorious colors in the evening, but during the day they were as monotonous as anything the group had yet faced.

They came to a part of the pass that was closed on both sides, a sheer cliff wall on the right and a fearsome dropoff to the left. The path was wide enough for only two at a time; they traveled single file anyway, to avoid being crowded.

"Are we there yet?" Khenti whined. "My paws hurt, my head hurts, my tail hurts--"

"I think we're about halfway," Anubis said. "If we were following the river, I'd know."

"What are we going to do when we get there?" Horus asked.

"It's not like we can just walk into the city," Sakhmet said.

"We might have to," said Upuat.

"Hsst!" Maftet hissed. "I heard something!"

Somewhere a pebble fell. Upuat whipped out his sword and whirled around, looking in every direction, snarling. Horus pulled out his sword as well; his lance was safely wrapped up in animal skins, stowed on one of the Sha. He looked around him. Everyone else had their weapons ready.

A hideous sound came from overhead, half scream, half howl. Something descended upon them with giant wings outspread. The Sha squealed and reared up as more shapes came charging from two directions.

"Kana!" Anubis shouted.

Upuat roared and went at the nearest one, slicing across its throat and sending it into the ravine. A dozen or so in black ear lappets--common soldiers--came at them from the north; two lieutenants in blue, with their soldiers, charged from the south.

"They've got us pinned in!" Upuat shouted. "Get the Sha in the middle and face out!"

They did so, though it was awkward, and one Sha tripped and fell, skidding over the edge of the ravine. It squalled and kicked as it went. Horus gasped as soon as he noticed what it was carrying with it.

His lance!

He reached out a hand, as if to will it to come to him. Instead, Khenti Amenti jumped and caught it in his teeth, watching the Sha fall to the jagged rocks below. He winced and turned to Horus, passing him the lance.

Horus accepted it gratefully.

"I saved your lance," Khenti said. "I've done my good deed for the day." An arrow struck the ground beside him and he yelped. "Maftet! Watch where you're aiming those things!"

"It's not mine!" Maftet pulled her kudu around to shoot down the Apsiu archer before he could fire again. The arrow struck his arm; he yowled and fell, dragging his Sha with him. Another Apsiu swung at her with his ax; Upuat, snarling, sent him the same way as the first.

Someone threw an ax. Anubis gasped and ducked to the side. It grazed his upper arm before slapping into the rock, sending chips flying every which way.

"Are you all right?" Horus asked.

Anubis nodded. "Just a scratch. Look out--!"

He grabbed Horus's reins and pulled the kudu aside as an Apsiu came up beside them, screaming and swinging a sword. Horus blocked him and their hilts locked; they started struggling to break free. Anubis hurled his boomerang, knocking the Apsiu in the head. He lost his sword, but grabbed an ax hanging at his side and swung it. Horus knocked it aside also. The Kana quailed and backed off, only to be replaced by another.

Horus started to fight him off, only to run into something behind him. A Sha bawled and tried to move, bumping up against one of its companions. They milled around in the middle, seeking a way out. Khenti had to constantly move out of the way of both the Apsiu and the kudus to avoid being crushed.

"We can't keep this up!" Sakhmet cried, swinging her ax and holding up her shield to deflect a return blow.

Horus glanced at Maftet. She'd given up her arrows as useless at such close range, and was now fighting with daggers. Anubis had resorted to simply clubbing the Apsiu with his boomerang.

Daggers and boomerangs against swords and battleaxes.

He looked back to the south. The trail rose far ahead of them, up the side of the cliff and out of sight. The way was blocked by Apsiu. The only way out was up--or down.

He knew somehow he had it in him, the power to fly; yet that didn't seem to hold for any of the others, and even if it did, what would they do without the kudus or the Sha?

I'm not going to leave any of them. They're here because of me.

He continued fighting, and the others went right on fighting around him, but they all knew it was a losing fight. The Kana were crowding them in so hard there was barely any room to move, barely any room to swing a weapon without striking a companion. Plus they were tiring quickly. Yet they kept fighting, as if taking out as many Apsiu as they could would have to be good enough.

Horus raised his sword and swung it, its metal ringing against a bronze Apsiu ax blade.

A high, eerie howl suddenly split the air, being joined by another, and another, until a chorus of cries arose from the north. Everyone stopped fighting and turned to look, the Apsiu seeming startled. The pack Sha started whining and whistling, bumping into each other and roiling in circles as if the sound had an effect on them.

A Kana near Upuat jerked and sputtered. The others whirled around to see the head and part of the shaft of a long spear sticking out from under his ribs. They glanced up the trail as he fell. A figure on a kudu stood at the top, and the antelope reared and charged down the slope toward them.

From the north, confusion. The Kana wailed and started trying to turn as a horde of Sha, Moru upon their backs, came at them, the riders letting out a battle cry with their weapons raised. Antakh and his captains rode in front, leading the charge. They met and clashed with the Kana, pushing them back toward the gods.

Horus looked and saw the kudu arrive from the south, its rider, a man with the head of a crocodile and wearing a brilliant pectoral with spear design, stooping to retrieve his own spear from the fallen Kana. A look of relief Horus had never thought possible spread across Upuat's face, relief mixed with recognition.

"Sobek!" he exclaimed. "Excellent timing, as always!"

"It's why I have this job and you don't," Sobek replied, lifting his spear and hurling it at one of the Kana lieutenants. The Apsiu squawked and tried to dodge, falling from his Sha. He got to his feet and attempted to slash at the kudu's legs with a dagger; Sobek impaled him neatly, pushing him over the edge after freeing his spear. Together he and Upuat attacked the second lieutenant, and with Maftet's help they finished off the Apsiu on their south side, before turning north to assist the others.

The Moru were hard pressing their cousins, who had nowhere left to turn. Most of them stayed and fought to the very end; a few, however, seeing it was futile, flapped their wings and took to the air. Antakh's Moru managed to shoot one down, but the two survivors flew away, cursing and shrieking, to the south. Almost as abruptly as it had begun, the battle ended.

"And don't you try that again!" Khenti barked after the disappearing Apsiu.

Horus turned to look at the others, who were panting and bleeding from slight scratches and cuts but otherwise all right. His eyes fell on Upuat and the newcomer. "This is Sobek," Upuat said. He gave the god a sideways glance. "Supposedly he's back at the palace watching Goddess Isis."

"She's the one who sent me," Sobek retorted. He put his arm to his chest and bowed. "Lord Sobek, Captain of the Guard, sent to fight at the prince's side by command of Queen Isis."

Horus nodded. "We're glad you showed up when you did, else we might not be talking to each other right now." He turned back to Antakh and his men. "Lord Antakh. How did you know to come after us?"

"It was on the wall," Antakh said. "After you left, we decided to see if we could piece together the scene on the last section. We informed you wrongly. It wasn't a warning to take to the cliffs; it was a picture of you being ambushed in the cliffs. I'm just relieved we showed up in time; the scene didn't reveal that much."

"Thank Ra for prophecies," Khenti said.

"Thank Ra for whoever built that wall," Horus replied. "We should be moving on south. Are you--?"

Antakh nodded. "If you're going to the city, you'll have to face Set's Kana. And no matter how well you fight you can't take them on alone. We can serve as your reserve forces, should you need them."

"We will," Upuat said, "because sooner or later Set will launch a full-scale attack. That I know without a prophecy."

Horus smiled slightly, though he wasn't really feeling it. "Welcome, then. I suppose you're my army, now."

Janaa, just behind Antakh, raised one hand and hooted. "To the south!" His cry was taken up by the rest of the Apsiu, who started banging their weapons against their shields.

"I suppose we'd better go," Horus had to shout above the din, "before they bring the rock crashing down on us!"

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