Horus: Chapter 11
HORUS SHIELDED HIS eyes as he gazed down at the city. Sobek had described it for him as they traveled, now well protected from the Kana by their Moru escort. Still Horus had never seen anything like the sprawling metropolis below, walled in on all sides. He was too used to the small scattered villages of the Delta. Even from their great distance he could see two buildings standing out from the others due to their large size, one in the west, one in the southeast.
"The smaller one's the temple," Sobek explained. "The one in the west is the royal palace, where your uncle lives."
"How long before we reach it?"
"We should get there before nightfall. Though the Apsiu will spot us much sooner."
Horus hardly cared. He couldn't wait to reach the city, to meet Isis and Thoth, to finally see this Set who had murdered his father. He felt his heart being squeezed; it took him a moment to realize it was anxiousness.
Sobek had prodded his kudu and started down the side trail to the plain. Horus turned away from the city and followed, with the others behind him in a long line.
They reached the flat plain stretching away to the east and found the going much easier than it had been in days. They relaxed a little as they went; they were still too far from the city to worry about any Kana.
After several moments Khenti barked and growled, his fur rising. Everyone jerked to a stop, looking around. "What is it?" Upuat asked, drawing his sword.
"A Kana! Right ahead! I knew I smelled Kana--they're nothing but trouble!"
Horus heard the sounds of everyone's weapons being drawn. He gripped his lance tighter when Antakh rode ahead of them, holding up a hand. "Stop!"
"What?" Sobek asked, squinting.
"There's something wrong with him. Look how he's running." Antakh frowned and peered closer before shaking his head. "We don't have anything to worry about from him. He's not Kana. Not anymore."
"What do you mean, not anymore?" Anubis asked. They paused and waited for the lone figure to arrive, noticing now how it stumbled and tripped, its wings flailing uselessly at the air. Once, when one swept up and out almost completely, Anubis relaxed.
"Oh," he said. "I see."
The Apsiu coming toward them had been maimed. His wings hung in tatters behind his back. They understood what Antakh had said; this Kana would never fly again.
He saw them now, stopping in his tracks and nearly falling over. A weird strangled sound escaped his throat and he tried to run, now actually falling over in the dust. His wings flapped again, reflexively.
Horus got off his kudu and ran to help him. Khenti started as he went, "Are-you-sure-this-is-a-good-ide--"
Horus approached the fallen Apsiu, Sobek and the others right behind him. He reached down to help him up, only to have the Apsiu snarl and strike out at him with a dagger, cutting his arm.
Horus hissed and drew his arm back, blood squeezing between his fingers. Antakh joined him, looking at the wound, then at the Kana.
The Kana let out a mewing sound and tried to crawl away.
"It's all right," Antakh said. "We're not Kana. This is Prince Horus, returned to the city. We fight for him, not General Kusef."
On hearing the general's name, the Apsiu seemed to relax--a little. "You're not spies?" he asked, his voice wavering.
Horus shook his head, still trying to ignore the pain in his arm. "No. We've been fighting off Kana the whole way here."
The Apsiu stared at them a moment more, as if trying to decide whether to believe them or not, before crawling slowly to his feet. Antakh reached out to help him and he reluctantly accepted. He tried to brush himself off, darting nervous glances from one of them to the other.
"My...my name is Tarua," he said, haltingly. "Formerly--formerly of the Kana."
"What happened to you?" Sakhmet asked, coming up beside Horus and handing him a piece of cloth to bind his arm.
"I tried--I tried to go against the king. I tried to stab him with this--with this dagger." He looked at the dagger in his hand, as if wondering how it had gotten there. "It didn't work. They cut up my wings and would have killed me, but Goddess Isis stopped them. She let me leave the city." He looked back in the direction of the walled city. "I don't know what I'm going to do now. I'm Moru. I'm useless. I can't go back, and I have nowhere to live. The humans don't like Apsiu."
"You'll come with us." Horus said it without thinking, and decided not to take it back, even when the others gaped at him with disbelief. "We can always use another fighter, and from the looks of it you could fight back if you tried. You made it this far. You went against Set."
"And failed." Tarua took a step back. "You don't want a Moru fighting for you, do you?"
"Look around!" Upuat snapped. "What else do you think we have fighting for us?"
Tarua peered over Horus's shoulder. Only now did he notice the large number of Moru standing behind them, looking back. He bared his teeth a little and shifted from foot to foot.
"Face it," Sobek said. "You're no better than they are, and they're no better than you."
Tarua nodded without second thought. "All right. All right. I'll die on my own anyway. I may as well die doing something right for once. I'll join you. If you can use another Moru."
Horus nodded before any of the others could have time to feel insulted. He got back on his kudu. One of the Moru offered Tarua a Sha to ride, but he shook his head adamantly, falling into step with the others walking behind the gods. He resheathed his dagger and carried his head high, looking more pathetic than proud, with his tattered wings and ear lappets, though no one said anything about it.
They traveled a good part of the day, resting only once--and briefly--as they went. Slowly the city grew bigger. All that was visible now were the white walls and the tops of the palace and temple, the colored flags before the temple streaming in the breeze. After a while Horus could make out tiny shapes pacing atop the walls.
Before he could point them out he heard the long low call of one trumpet, followed by another.
They all stopped. Nothing happened. The city gate remained closed; no Kana warriors came flying across the desert at them.
Tarua whined and crept back, almost hiding among the rest of the Moru.
"They've seen us," Anubis muttered. "They know we're here."
"When are they going to attack already?" Sakhmet asked, sounding impatient.
Antakh shook his head. "No," he said carefully, "they won't attack. They would have had us already if Set had ordered an attack. We would never have gotten this close."
"Which means he wants us in the city first," Upuat growled. "Where we're fair game."
"No." Horus this time. The others looked at him. He frowned with thought. "I don't know much about battle tactics...but I doubt he'd try to trap us in the city and kill us all there, with so much to lose." He could see other shapes above the wall, and realized the townspeople were climbing atop their roofs to see. "This was an alert. I think he wants everyone to know we're here."
He moved on, not looking back. Anubis came up on his right, Upuat and Sobek on his left. They made certain their weapons were displayed prominently; Horus kept his lance upright.
The land grew darker around them as the sunlight faded, being replaced by clouds which hung over the city and its surrounding areas like a thick spiderweb. Horus felt a distinct chill on seeing them, so unnaturally motionless in a breezy sky. Khenti snorted.
"Home sweet home."
They crossed a field of irrigation ditches that lay in their path. As they drew nearer the horns blew again, and they heard the dull murmur of people gathering behind the wall. Still nothing happened until they were within shouting distance, when the huge doors creaked and began to open.
Horus and the others paused again to watch.
The doors opened further to reveal Kana pulling on them. The two Apsiu with trumpets stood atop the wall watching them. The group peered beyond the doors to see two rows of Kana standing with their ceremonial weaponry, keeping a wide path clear.
"Are they welcoming us?" Anubis asked, perplexed.
"Nothing from Set is ever a welcome," Sobek said. "Still, they aren't attacking."
"They could be waiting to," Upuat said.
Sobek glared at him. "Those aren't attack formations. If this were planned out, it's very sloppy."
Upuat showed his teeth. "It could be an ambush. Then we'd never know."
Horus held up a hand before Sobek could retort. "It's not an ambush," he said, not sure how he knew. "Not this time. We'll be safe going in, but everyone keep your eyes and ears open."
They all nodded in agreement, letting him go ahead several paces before following, each of them wary.
The city was silent now as they approached, the only sounds the singing of birds on the river and in the trees. The great double doors loomed closer. Soon enough Horus and the others were upon them, crossing between them--and into the city.
Immediately there erupted such a noise that Horus's kudu started and he looked around, uncertain what it was. People all around him waved from their windows and rooftops, swinging palm fronds and scraps of colored cloth. Some tossed flowers and wreaths at him. He caught one in his hand before realizing it was cheering he heard. Cheering for--
"They're cheering you!" Anubis had to shout above the racket. He and the others looked surprised also, but smiled and laughed as petals rained over them. Only Tarua didn't seem to share their enthusiasm, cowering and holding his arms over his head as if the flowers were knives.
Crowds waited in the streets as well, the Apsiu with their axes and spears holding them back. Horus and his company passed between them with no trouble. Several people broke through the barricade and ran before them, dancing and playing on flutes. A girl ran up beside Sobek's kudu and gave him a lotus flower. He stared at it as she ran off, disappearing among the other city people.
It was overwhelming. Horus had never seen so many people in his life. He couldn't believe how happy they all looked, just to see him. Were things really so bad here that they would turn to an inexperienced boy from the Delta to lead them?
Two Kana with battleaxes stepped out in front of them. They stopped again, unease growing inside. Tarua actually hissed like a cornered cat. The Apsiu parted a ways, and, after making sure they--probably--wouldn't attack him, Horus went through. Upuat and Anubis tried to follow, to be stopped by the blunt ends of the axes. Upuat growled. Anubis watched anxiously--and with a seeming touch of resentment that he hadn't been allowed through--as his brother continued alone.
Horus sensed the others no longer being behind him, and felt like turning to see what was happening. His hand tightened on the reins.
Horus. Don't go back. Go only forward.
His eyes widened. He searched the crowd, wondering who could have put the thought in his head. No one acknowledged his stare except with a smile or wave.
The path grew broader ahead. He saw an immense building looming to the right, and was surprised he hadn't noticed it before, as it took up half the city. Bright painted ceremonial scenes decorated the walls around it, and as the crowd thinned ahead he could see a wide avenue leading up the steps into the building, two ram-headed sphinxes at its sides. Columns coated with electrum glittered even under the cloudy sky.
The two Apsiu escorting him turned right. Horus followed. They proceeded up the sphinx avenue with the cacophony building behind them. Then, just as they reached the steps, it stopped--and they stopped.
Horus dismounted. His ears rang. He wanted to rub them but told himself to maintain his composure. He was glad he did, with what he saw next.
Something--someone--slowly approached from the depths of the hypostyle hall. Horus could hear the soft sound of footsteps upon a tiled floor. More figures appeared, and as the first one stepped out into the light Horus caught his breath.
He looked like an Apsiu--but he wasn't. He had the face of one, but a body like Horus's, that of a man, with no wings. He wore the traditional kilt, and gold-gilded sandals. A sort of cape of gauzy gold flowed over his shoulders and behind him. A pectoral of gold and obsidian lay against his black, scale-like armor; he wore also arm- and legbands and large hoop earrings. He carried the royal crook and flail in one hand, almost as an afterthought. But what Horus noticed the most was the golden diadem upon his head, with the vulture of Nekhbet and the cobra of Buto. The insignia of the two kingdoms.
He stopped on the middle step. Behind him, to his right, came a person with the head of an ibis, richly adorned in flowing robes and wearing an ornate headdress with horns and feathers. Horus had seen a drawing of a similar crown once, and had heard it called the Atef. The ibis-headed man walked with an air of unusual grace and dignity, carrying a tall wooden staff topped with an eight inset with crystals. His eyes, lined with kohl, met Horus's, and instantly Horus knew this was the person who had spoken in his mind.
A third figure emerged on the other side. This one was a woman--a goddess--dressed as splendidly as the ibis-headed man, in every shade of blue, her shawl tied in a knot below her right shoulder. Her headdress was the golden queen's crown, a vulture with its wings stretched down to touch the sides of her face. It was topped by two gleaming ostrich plumes. Gold twined like comets' tails through her ebony-black hair. Her pectoral bore the shape of a hawk, and she carried a staff as well, topped with a carved lotus. Her whole demeanor suggested cool detachment; however, her blue-lined eyes also met Horus's, and instantly lit up.
Horus stifled a gasp. Scenes started flashing before him, as if formed by light playing upon a wall, one image rapidly after another. He saw the same woman carrying a baby in the swamp; the baby stung by a scorpion and healed by the ibis man carrying his staff; the baby being placed on a reed raft pulled by crocodiles along the river; a man finding the baby, a giant snake, a boy fowling in the Delta, leaving home to see the temple, receiving the lance and cobra diadem--
He blinked and it all vanished. He was where he'd been before, in front of the great palace. Another goddess, this one dressed simply in green, approached to stand beside the woman in blue, taking her arm in a familiar gesture and peering at Horus curiously. Two Kana--one in purple, one in gray--came down to stand behind the man with the diadem. Horus didn't meet their eyes. He could feel their hate already.
Don't fear the Kana, Horus. You must fear something much closer.
He glanced at the ibis-headed man. The ibis-headed man stared back impassively.
"Welcome, Nephew." Horus turned to look again at the man with the crown. He had an odd smile Horus didn't like. But try as he might, he couldn't sense any emotion from him.
So this is him. He didn't bow, or kneel, but tipped his head very, very slightly. "King Set."
His uncle's smile grew. "So you recognize me already. Though we've never had the honor of meeting. I believe I promised your mother something should this day ever come." He and the goddess in blue--Isis, Horus realized--shared a look which was in no way friendly.
"We've come a long way," Horus said. "From the Delta." He knew everyone within earshot was listening to him carefully, transmitting what he said to those who couldn't hear. "We have business to attend to, about the throne."
"Yes, yes." Set sounded more dismissive than worried. "That can all be dealt with. After we dine, of course."
Horus looked back to see the Apsiu had let the other gods, as well as Antakh and Janaa, come forward. Anubis shot him a look that said he wasn't sure he liked this idea. Horus remembered what he'd told him about how Osiris had died.
He had his Apsiu do it. At a banquet. He pretended to be friendly...
Still, he couldn't turn it down. That might be considered an insult--or cowardice.
"As you said, you've come a long way," Set went on. "The least you could do is join us for dinner, and we'll provide you with a place to stay tonight. Any business can wait until you're thoroughly rested, when we can more clearly discuss it. Will you join us in the south garden?"
Horus hesitated. He looked at the ibis-headed man, whom he now knew to be Thoth.
Thoth said nothing. His eyes told nothing. To Horus, it was as if he'd shut his thoughts off to leave the decision up to him.
He faced Set again, raising his head. "We'll join you for dinner."
"Very good." Set waved at the Moru lined up behind them. "Your Apsiu will be well taken care of, also, though I'm afraid there's not room enough for them all in the garden. Kusef, take them to the north garden and see to it that they're fed and entertained. Place their kudus and Sha in the stables."
The Kana in purple saluted and led the Moru up the steps past Set and the others. Tarua cowered away from both the king and Kusef, though Set ignored him. The general gave him such an evil look that he ducked his head, his ears pressed flat, and made himself as small as possible as they departed. Several other Kana took care of their mounts, also leading them away.
"Come now." Set clasped his hands, still holding the crook and flail which Horus imagined had belonged to his father. He forced the thought down as Set turned back to the palace. "I'll have a feast prepared. Just to welcome you back, Prince Horus of Kemet."
Hetepet stood in the crowd and watched the whole confrontation. She couldn't believe Horus had really come. If only she could find Pendua, she would tell him of this! She imagined him in a cell somewhere awaiting trial, if he were lucky.
As the king turned to go back into the palace she started to leave, only to feel an irresistible urge to stay a moment longer. The ibis-headed man turned his head and looked straight at her.
She caught her breath. Lord Thoth. He's looking at me. At me.
The god nodded at her, a signal to approach. Numbly, she did so, the Kana parting to let her through. She went up the steps and bowed, touching her head to the stone.
He tapped her lightly with his staff. "Mortal. You'll tend to the Goddess Isis's belongings now, and dwell within the palace with her other ladies."
Hetepet didn't ask why he'd chosen her. He'd chosen, and that was good enough. She bowed again and entered the palace with Isis's women, trying to shove her real life--and Hekanakht's worried face--out of her mind.
The south garden was overlooked by Set's quarters, bounded on two sides by the south and southwest courts. It much resembled the north garden Isis's rooms overlooked, with paved paths winding around shade trees and pools covered with lotus flowers. One pool larger than the others was located in the center of the garden; it was around here that most of the guests gathered, sitting either on small folding stools or on the ground. Servants walked around with silver bowls and pitchers of water, others putting out little tables.
Horus watched with some discomfort. He--and the others, he was sure--had been taken upstairs to a washroom, where servants had poured bowls of cold water over him, rubbed him with oils and perfumes, and dressed him in fresh clothes, disposing of his old kilt and wrapping him in one trimmed with gold and blue, with a bull tail hanging in back like the other gods'. They gave him gold and lapis anklets, bracelets, and pectoral, his little wadjet on its string looking plain against the splendid jewelry. His diadem they polished and replaced, so the uraeus glowed like fire. They lined his eyes with blue and held a copper mirror before him.
He hadn't believed his eyes. The reflection staring back couldn't be him. He looked like a young Ra, a young Harakhte. He certainly didn't feel the way he looked; how long ago had he been hunting ducks in the Delta for Reia? Less than two months? How could so much have changed since then?
He stood now half hiding behind a column at the north side of the garden, and watched the others enter. Set and Isis, with Thoth, were already present, Set on an ornate couch surrounded by flowing transparent curtains. Isis sat in a similar state, Thoth sitting on the ground at her side. Horus noticed the goddess in green--Nephthys--also sat nearer to her sister than to Set, though he didn't seem to care. He appeared to be ignoring the group altogether as the Apsiu in gray--Mahai--whispered something in his ear.
Anubis, Upuat, Sakhmet, and Maftet entered. Horus almost didn't recognize them. If they'd been dressed well before, now it was extravagant; everything about them seemed to glitter, including their eyes, which had been lined with makeup. Anubis and Upuat now wore gold earrings; as they passed Anubis looked at him, and even with the gold lining his eyes Horus recognized the same person with whom he'd traveled. Anubis appeared to be encouraging him.
Only Antakh and Janaa looked more out of place than Horus felt. They'd both been washed but had refused new clothing, keeping their old Apsiu dress. Antakh walked past a scowling Kusef with his head carried high, while Janaa made odd gestures at everything and everybody with his staff, muttering under his breath. They went to the far side of the pool and sat by themselves.
Horus turned his head. Sobek stood beside him, carrying his spear. He'd been freshly dressed as well, though, like the others, he showed no discomfort. Horus decided they all must be used to it.
"Goddess Isis asked me to escort you in," he whispered. "I still have a few men under my command. They're just for show, but I think that's what you need right now."
Sobek glanced in Set's direction. Horus saw the dislike in his eyes. "I won't pretend to like your uncle, Horus. I never have. Even before he--even before what happened with Lord Osiris, he grabbed for too much that wasn't his. I'm certain he has a sense of pride, and Isis knows it. Maybe we can't threaten him outright, not yet. But if he sees you walking in in state, maybe he'll think twice before underestimating you. I know," he added. "I've seen you fight."
Horus shut his eyes. Walking in surrounded by royal soldiers was what he wanted to do least; melting into the wall and disappearing was what he really wanted to do. He didn't belong here; even if his blood was royal, he'd lived too long in the Delta to ever feel right in the palace.
Yet he had to. Harakhte had told him so, and Buto, and Reia, each in their own way. Even Set had called him "Prince." He knew nothing of palace politics, so he supposed he'd better listen to Sobek.
He opened his eyes and nodded. "All right."
Sobek led him behind the trees back to the entrance and into the south court. Sobek's men--about ten or twelve of them--stood waiting already, all armed with spears. Sobek motioned a servant forward; the man draped a cloak over Horus's shoulders, fastening it at his throat.
"For looks," Sobek explained. "Follow me."
He got in front and marched into the garden. Horus tried to assume the same stance and followed, the soldiers on each side of him.
Everyone in the garden fell silent as he entered, all of them staring at him. He forced himself to keep walking. Peering at Set, he saw brief antagonism flash in his eyes, replaced almost immediately by cool criticism. Isis's face didn't change but he sensed her pride. Upuat actually grinned to see him arrive in such splendor. Anubis got an odd look, an uncertain cross between envy and admiration. Horus didn't acknowledge any of their stares, except Set's; their eyes met and locked, as Sobek stopped and bowed; for a moment Horus stood staring down at his uncle, before getting on one knee and tipping his head, breaking the stare. He saw Sobek smile slightly and almost nod, as if to say Good work.
Horus looked up. Set appeared to relax a little, and nodded. "Prince Horus. Do me the honor of sitting here, between your mother and me. That way we can all catch up on old times."
Don't allow him to intimidate you. The same voice as before. Horus bowed his head again and moved to sit between his uncle and his mother.
Someone touched his left arm. He looked up to see Isis looking down at him. She smiled, and he was surprised how it made her look, after seeing her so serious before. He could almost remember her holding him as a baby.
"Welcome home," she said softly.
Horus smiled tentatively back. He felt a little awkward, but something about her seemed right to him. He also felt a pang of guilt that she felt more right even than Reia had.
The moment was shattered when Set clapped his hands. "Enough already," he called to no one in particular. "We've had enough display. It's time to eat. Before it gets too cold out here."
Servants started arriving with trays of food. Girls walked around handing out lotuses; one stepped up to Horus and placed a blossom in his diadem. He reached up to touch it and nearly pulled back when another tried to place a cone of wax on his head.
"It's all right." Isis nodded and Horus allowed the cone to be placed atop his head. "It's a scent cone. It'll melt as the evening goes on." She bowed her head a little as one was placed on her. "There are a lot of things you'll have to get used to. Just relax tonight. You won't have to hunt for your food here."
As if to punctuate this statement, another group of servants came up to them, piling their little tables with roast goose, different breads made with fruit and honey, figs, dates, cakes, cheese, fish, pomegranates, cucumbers, lettuce, melon, almonds, and grapes; one servant poured water over their hands, and another filled cups with grape, palm, and date wine. Horus had eaten grapes before--they were common enough in the Delta--but he'd never drunk wine; the sweetness of it surprised him.
Everyone began to eat, picking at the meat and bread with their hands, chattering and laughing. The ever-present cheetahs and gazelles crept out from behind trees and begged for handouts. For once, everything seemed relaxed and nonthreatening. Horus tried to accustom himself to the atmosphere as he selected a barley cake sweetened with honey and tested it.
Musicians and dancers entered, followed by Khenti Amenti, who trotted over to the pool. "Sorry I'm late!" he called out. "Who's saved me some dinner? I hope I haven't missed the show."
Someone started to play the flute. A moment later drums, a harp, and a lute joined in, along with a second flute. The dancers started beating tambourines and twirling and jumping. Several of the guests clapped along with them on ivory hand clappers.
Horus ate and watched for a while until he noticed Set push his table away and put out his hands for water to be poured over them. He looked at Horus out of the corner of his eye and smiled slightly.
"Enjoying your dinner? I suppose it's better than any Delta gruel you could dredge up."
Horus kept his voice neutral. "The food is good, though I'm quite used to Delta gruel."
Everyone in Anubis's group turned away, hiding smiles.
Set's mouth twitched. "I'll keep that in mind in the future. Whenever that may be." He shifted to address his nephew more easily. "I see you've visited the free Moru and brought them along with you. Why is that exactly? Did you think you'd need an army to get into the city?"
Horus felt a little ridiculous with the warm wax dripping down around his face but did his best to mask it. "During our journey here we've had some less than pleasant encounters with Kana warriors. Your warriors, I assume." He glanced at Kusef to make his point.
Set shrugged. "Sometimes Kusef gets a little carried away with my orders. I explicitly asked that they find your party and escort you back. You do, after all, belong here; though it shows little."
Lies. All lies. Horus was a little startled this time to find that the voice was his own. He felt the clenching in his heart, but it wasn't fear or anxiety; in his mind he saw the oasis wall again, the painting with Reia standing before the Kana armed with nothing but his broken staff and a smile upon his face. He saw the picture of the dead god lying upon his funeral bier, and himself banished to the swamps. He heard Anubis's voice. He said he'd kill you if he found you.
Why should he be surprised by lies? It must have been through lies and trickery that Set had gotten this far. Horus would have to remember that.
Right now he ignored the stares of everyone around him and pretended he hadn't felt insulted in the least. "I apologize if we find it a little difficult to believe the Kana have our best interests at heart."
Set tipped his head. "In that case I apologize also. Believe me, I'll make certain Kusef never lays a hand on you."
Kusef scowled as if denied some entertainment.
"Either way, let's save such discussion till tomorrow," Set continued. "Right now we're all here to enjoy ourselves, and I'm sure you'd be in a much better state to talk after a long rest. All your rooms are being prepared as we speak."
Horus fell silent and didn't speak again the rest of the evening, even as lamps were set out to light the darkening garden and the guests grew more boisterous. He drank only one cup of wine the whole night. He felt uneasier here than he would have in a crocodile-infested marsh. Somehow, he sensed he'd have to keep alert no matter where he was.
He noticed the occasional person getting up and leaving, even though Set never dismissed them. Set didn't seem to care; he was more interested in what Mahai had to say. Isis stood and signaled Thoth. They, and Isis's train, left the garden without even glancing in Set's direction. This time Set watched them go.
Horus picked up a date.
He didn't need to look around. He ate the fruit and stood up, turning to Set.
"With your leave, I'll go now for that rest you say I need."
Set smiled graciously. "My Kana will show you to your quarters, if you like."
"There's no need. I'm sure I'll find the way."
Set shrugged. Horus turned away and left, with Sobek and his men following him out.
"Which way to Goddess Isis's quarters?" Horus whispered as they passed through the south courtyard.
"She overlooks the north garden. Your quarters are in the back of the palace. I'll show you."
He dismissed his men and Horus followed him through the inner court and into the central hall. They approached the north stairway through the columns at the side of the room.
A hand reached out and touched Sobek's arm. Sobek started to draw back his spear, then relaxed and nodded Horus forward. Horus took a step and saw Thoth standing in the flickering lamplight.
Thoth touched his hand to his chest. "I welcome you back, Horus. It's been too long."
"I need to know something," Horus said.
Thoth nodded. "Your uncle is very deceptive. He's had much more time to perfect it. You've barely reached godhood; he can see through you as a fish sees through water."
He'd been trying to act neutral. Maybe that wasn't good enough. "What do I do?"
"Right now, all you can do is stay alert. Set has sworn to kill you, if he can. Deception is in his ka. Deception is what he'll use on you, and he's not above using it when you'll least expect it."
Horus nodded. Thoth touched his hand to his chest again and bowed. "I go to attend the Goddess Isis now. Good luck, and goodnight."
Horus watched him disappear in the stairway before he and Sobek followed.
They passed Isis's rooms on their way to Horus's quarters, in the west section of the upper level. Horus looked around briefly at the stools and boxes and bed further over near the open section overlooking the desert. He wiped a drop of scented wax away from his eye. He couldn't wait to wash it all off.
"I had the servants dismissed," Sobek said. "I know they'd make you nervous. They'll stop by again in the morning to wake you."
Horus nodded. "Thank you, Sobek. You and the others, for everything."
Sobek bowed his head. "Believe me, having you back is what we all want. If you need nothing else, I'll be going to Isis's quarters now. I won't have the Kana guarding her door."
Horus nodded again. Sobek bowed and left. Alone now, Horus turned back to the balcony. He went out onto it, staring out across the darkened desert and into the west.
Are you there? he asked himself, uncertain whether he meant Reia or Osiris. Are you really there, in the West? Have you been following me this whole time? Watching me?
Watching over me?
His thoughts fell silent. The sparkling of stars and the whispering northern breeze provided his only answer.
Khenti Amenti prowled around the palace at night, as a wolf was prone to do. He was the last one left in the south garden after the banquet, and spent the better part of an hour cleaning up scraps with the gazelles and cheetahs. When that was done, he'd batted at the fish in the pool. When that got tiresome, he'd trotted through the south and central courts and into the central hall, sniffed at the throne, reconsidered, went back through the garden and into the southwest court. The stables and prison cells were located here. Khenti made certain the kudus and Sha were safe, worried a mouse creeping along the floor, and entered the kitchens behind the palace. They were empty, and he couldn't find any more food. He sniffed the floor. He was still hungry. Many were the times Sobek, finding him snooping around, had called him a bottomless pit fit to rival anything in the Duat.
If I were food, where would I be?
Simple. In a storage cellar beneath the palace, where it could be kept cool. Khenti licked his chops, found the stairs leading down to the cellars, and followed his nose.
He couldn't see anything, but that didn't matter. He could smell his way, including the path servants took up and down from the kitchen. He sniffed along, searching for a cell with lots of food in it. No one would ever notice it missing--
He froze, hackles rising, along with a growl in his throat. Among the mixed scents of cooks and servants, there was something else, something he recognized.
They'd been down here, often, and recently. Perhaps Moru would have a reason to visit the food cellars, but not Kana. They would never do something so menial as carry food.
He listened, and sniffed again. The latest scent was at least several hours old. No Kana were in the area now. Curious, he tried to determine what it was they'd been interested in.
Kana. They could only be up to something sneaky, sneakier than anybody else. Present company excluded.
He found a door around which the scents accumulated, and poked his nose at the crack beneath it. This was odd. It smelled almost like--
Pendua lifted his head, hearing a strange snuffling noise outside the door, like a dog checking out a scent. He pushed himself up on one arm.
A dog? Perhaps a dog could call attention to his situation. He'd had a dog once, when he was little, that had retrieved help when he'd fallen trying to climb the wall. Maybe this one could do the same.
He crept forward and whistled softly.
The snuffling abruptly stopped with a snort.
Pendua whistled again. "Here, boy. In here. Hungry? Huh? Want a treat?"
A pause. Then, "Do you have dried meat in there?"
Pendua jumped back with a clatter. He scrabbled at the floor and tried to stand up.
"Hey! Don't spill all the goodies!" the voice barked. "Do you have food in there, or not?"
"Uh--" Pendua stammered. "I--I'm not--too--sure..."
"You don't, do you?" The voice sounded annoyed. "You're just stuck in there, and you wanted to trick me into letting you out for free, like some trained hound. Leave it to a human to do something so stupid. Hold on. I'll find somebody to get you out." A receding padding sound, followed by a muttered, "Then you owe me, human."
Pendua sat still. No more sounds came from outside. He knew not much time was passing, but sitting in total darkness and silence made the minutes drag like hours. He fell to staring at where the door would be, willing himself to hear something--anything--other than the beating in his own chest.
After some time he realized he wasn't actually hearing anything, but rather seeing something, a very faint, thin line hovering in the air before him. He stared at it so long it wavered--no, wait, it really did waver, and grew brighter.
It wasn't his tired eyes. It was a light.
He crept back to the door. "Hey! Hsst!"
The light stopped moving. He heard the rope latch being undone, and squinted as the door opened and lamplight flooded in.
Two figures stood before him, silhouetted by the lamp on the ground behind them. One was a wolf wearing a feather. The other was a statuesque woman, whom Pendua began to address, before seeing her face and losing his voice.
Cool green lynx eyes stared back at him.
Pendua ducked his head and pressed it to the floor.
Maftet turned to Khenti. "You say you found him?"
Khenti scuffed a paw against the dirt. "Sort of. I wasn't exactly looking for him, but here he is."
"Mortal." Pendua looked to see the lynx goddess had addressed him. "What's your name?"
"And why are you in a food cellar?" the wolf asked.
Pendua tried not to stammer. "My...my name is Pendua, God and Goddess. I was--I was locked down here for speaking against the king."
The two looked interested. "You spoke against Set?" Khenti echoed.
Pendua nodded. "The Kana locked me down here.... So far I haven't had a trial, and I don't know how my friends are doing."
"There were three. Hekanakht and Hetepet were two. I don't know if they're in trouble or not."
"Hetepet," Khenti said, his face brightening. "I know her. Her brother works in the temple. She was at the feast tonight."
They both looked at him. "Feast?" Pendua asked.
The wolf nodded. "Prince Horus's welcoming feast. She was with Isis's train."
"Prince Horus?" Pendua's eyes grew wide and he sat up. "Horus is in the city?"
"We arrived earlier today," Maftet said.
Pendua stood. He didn't care now if it were considered a discourtesy to stand before a god without asking. This news about Horus returning to the city had excited him so much.
"Then it's coming," he said, his eyes alight. "My dream. What Hekanakht saw in my dream. Trouble for the throne." He didn't provide an answer for their questioning looks. He turned to Khenti. "Hetepet. Where is she? Where can I find her?"
"She's above. With Isis's women. They're all staying above."
Pendua started to leave. "I have to tell her about this. It changes everything."
Maftet stopped him, blocking his path with her arm. He nearly shied away rather than touch her.
She shook her head. "Lord Thoth asked that she serve Isis and stay in the palace. She can't leave yet. We'll see that she hears about you, but it would be safest if you left."
He hesitated. "How do I leave here? I'm supposed to be a prisoner."
"I'll call Lord Sobek. His men can escort you out. Set and the Kana won't go after you now that Horus is here. Though I suggest you try to keep a low profile from now on, and not tempt fate."
Pendua paused again before nodding. Maftet turned, following Khenti, who picked up the lamp in his jaws and trotted up the cellar steps.
"You should go to the temple and let Hekanakht know where his sister is," Maftet whispered as they reached the kitchens.
"And don't force things," the goddess went on. "You said you had a dream. Perhaps it means something, and perhaps in time you'll be called upon to do something. Follow your instincts." She looked at him over her shoulder. "Events are in motion. Thoth's asking Hetepet to stay is proof of that. I know he's up to something. Wait until you're needed--you'll know when--but until then, keep alive. For now that'll be good enough."
Horus found it difficult to rest.
It was partly because of the bed. He was used to sleeping on a simple pallet, not this wood-frame construction covered with linens and thick furs for when it got cold. It wasn't uncomfortable--not in the least. Still he found himself turning restlessly as the moonlight changed outside.
But it wasn't that that bothered him the most. What Thoth had said about Set bothered him.
Deception is what he'll use on you, and he's not above using it when you'll least expect it.
So when should he expect it--or least expect it? Would he ever be able to let his guard down at all?
He tried to figure out why Set had done what he had, and why he hated his family so much. What could darken a person's ka so much that he'd kill his own brother? It couldn't be simple jealousy, as the others had hinted; there had to be something more.
Why was he so intent on shutting out the sunlight, so much so that the city would die? There was nothing to gain from that, and everything to lose. How could anyone be so self-destructive?
He wondered why Set allowed the night stars to shine. Conserving energy? Or out of pity? Horus found it difficult to believe someone who had murdered his brother would pity mere mortals enough to let them have their starlight.
He sighed. Despite the strangeness of his quarters, he was starting to feel tired. If he ever wanted to be clear enough to talk with Set tomorrow, he'd have to get some sleep. He turned over onto his side to face the balcony. The sight of the western cliffs somehow comforted him--the thought that there should be two people watching over him from there--and he let his eyes drift closed, a soft darkness overtaking him.
The sounds of nightbirds and jackals calling died away. The room faded away around him as he floated on an island in the middle of a wide dark sea. He imagined himself feeling as Ra must have, sitting alone in the lotus on the island of creation. The vast watery blackness of Nunu opened all around him, and he found himself listening to the sound of emptiness, to the great vacuum which sound would awaken with life once the god himself spoke--
--and from afar, the faint hiss of a snake, Apophis, perhaps, getting ready to strike the sun--
Not a hiss. Not a snake. A soft shhhkk, a sound he knew.
Everything in him lit up with alarm. His eyes flew open. His hand shot out to grab his sword beside the bed, and he rolled off to the floor just as something came crashing down right where his neck had been. The wooden frame splintered; linen and furs went flying every which way.
Horus rolled over and onto his feet, bringing his sword up before him.
The shadowy figure in front of him kicked the shattered bed aside and swung at him again. Horus blocked it, but the force of the blow sent him staggering back toward the balcony. A trace of moonlight filtered in and he saw Set's eyes ablaze with hate just before the sword slashed at his chest.
The string holding his wadjet snapped, and the little amulet skittered across the floor.
Set rammed into him. They both went flying out onto the balcony, Horus running into the ledge and nearly going over. He pushed Set away and blocked another blow. While he held off the sword, Set whipped out a dagger and slashed at the same arm that Tarua had wounded, opening a long deep gash.
Horus hissed. He struck back without thinking, knocking the dagger from Set's hand and sending the pommel of his sword crashing into the side of his uncle's face. Set let out a sound of surprise and pain, staggering back into the room and holding a hand to his bleeding mouth. Almost as quickly as it had begun the fight was over.
Horus stood panting on the balcony. He looked at his arm and winced, trying to squeeze the wound shut and stop the bleeding. Blood leaked between his fingers, making them sticky. He looked up at his uncle, then scanned the floor for his wadjet. He saw it lying near a papyrus column and bent to retrieve it. When he stood again Set was looking at him.
"I'll never do that again," he said, still breathing heavily, a line of blood running from the corner of his mouth. "Underestimating you. You're nothing like your father. He barely even fought back."
Horus's eyes narrowed. He felt his fingers tightening around the grip of his sword.
"I assume there'll be no talk tomorrow," he said.
Set gave a crooked smile. "You assume right. But don't for one moment think this is over. I might not be able to get rid of you as easily as I did your father." He put his sword back in its scabbard, with a soft shhhkk. "But that doesn't mean I won't get rid of you."
"My eyes are clear now," Horus said, still keeping the sword between his uncle and himself. "The clouds have been removed."
Set's grin deepened. "There'll always be worse storms. Some which hit suddenly." He backed further into the room, toward the door. "Goodnight, Nephew. Sleep well. You'll have to sometime."
He disappeared out the door. Some time passed before Horus could bring himself to put aside his sword and slump to the floor, exhausted. He let out a shuddery sigh and dropped his head into his hands.
No matter how tired he was, though, the rest of that night he got not one moment of sleep.