Horus: Chapter 13
HORUS OPENED HIS eyes and looked around himself warily. He wasn't on Thoth's balcony anymore. He realized he'd reappeared just within the temple courtyard, crouched down on one knee with his arms before his face. The city was just beginning to grow light.
"Back so soon?"
Horus tried to stand and turn at the same time, falling over before pushing himself up and stumbling in a half-circle. Someone laughed behind him. He saw a hawk god in black standing near a column several steps away. Sokar.
Horus steadied himself. Sokar grinned.
"You shouldn't be so surprised. I told you I'd be back. I've heard you'll be heading for Elephantine soon."
"Where do you hear these things?" Horus asked, irritated.
"Your father's not the only one who dwells in Amenti. I have my own place there. Only it's a little less sunny and cheerful, thank Ra. Perhaps you'll visit sometime."
Not soon, Horus thought, and Sokar thought back, Too bad. Horus flushed and turned away, to the entrance. A pair of baboons clambered past.
"You'll have to learn to master that, if you expect to face your uncle and live. I barely even had to try to do that."
"What do you want?"
Sokar sighed. "Still asking questions, it seems. I told you you'd have to work on that, too. If you'd think back a little, you'd remember I said I had some advice for you."
Horus shut his eyes to calm himself. "I'm sorry. I've acted--"
"Disrespectfully? Forget it. I get that all the time." He walked past Horus, his black cape swirling. Horus pushed himself away from a column to follow.
"I assume I won't be seeing you again anytime very soon, so I might as well give you that advice now." He stopped and turned back, counting on one finger. "There are two things you must know. Number one, you must watch your eye."
"My eye?" Horus touched his face, puzzled. He vaguely remembered Buto saying something like that.
Sokar nodded. "The reasons for which I'm not allowed to tell you, only that you must do so. Keep this in mind. Your uncle will undoubtedly find out."
Horus nodded. "And?"
"And I have a prophecy for you. This I wasn't required to tell you but I will, out of the kindness of my heart." He touched his hand to his chest in a mock gesture of respect. "This you must know: that two people will try to betray you, one of them closer to you than you could ever know."
Sokar nodded again. "So watch your back diligently from now on, young Horus. You never know who might be stabbing it." He lifted his arms, as he had the first time they'd met. "Well, it's my turn to go now. Farewell a second time, and remember not to trust anyone, even yourself."
Horus didn't stay to watch him change into a hawk and fly away. He turned back to the pylon and left the temple, heading back for the palace.
Don't trust anyone--not even myself. This is getting ridiculous.
On his way out he caught sight of a mortal, a human, half hiding nearby. He paused. The human, a short, stooped man wearing a soot-smudged kilt, saw his stare and, eyes widening, turned and darted off. Horus frowned but continued on his way.
"Majesty, I have a suggestion."
Set ignored Mahai at first. He was too busy trying to think of a way to make his bruised jaw look less conspicuous. He hadn't been gifted with nearly the amount of healing powers as Isis and Osiris; as such he scowled at himself in the mirror. The bruise went much deeper than just his skin.
"The whelp," he muttered. "I hope he roasts in the Duat."
"With blessings, Great King, may his heart be dinner for Amemit, and his soul the appetizer of Apophis."
"What?" Set gave Mahai such a look that the Apsiu knew he had his attention. He stepped forward.
"Majesty, I have a suggestion. A possible way to help us with this Horus, to make things difficult for him."
"I'm listening." Though he wasn't looking, having turned back to the mirror.
Mahai paused. "I've noticed a certain...inadequacy Lord Anubis seems to exhibit around his brother Prince Horus."
"Spit it out, Mahai."
"He's jealous, Lord. I can tell. He tries not to be but he is."
He tried to be careful with his wording. He'd faced a similar situation before, and hoped not to bring up any sudden anger. He knew Set disliked talking about his older brother.
"Why does this concern me, Mahai?"
The Apsiu relaxed slightly. Set's voice was mild, almost bored. He quit shuffling his feet and stood up straighter.
"I believe we could use Lord Anubis's jealousy to our advantage. Perhaps, if sufficiently angry, he could bring disorder to Horus's camp, or even join us, if we offered him the choice."
"Anubis isn't that angry, and he isn't that stupid or desperate." Set stood with his back to Mahai. "I don't see what you're suggesting."
Mahai started wringing his hands. He'd hoped he wouldn't have to go this far. "Well, perhaps...one could speak with Lord Anubis, and let him know...that...things..."
Set turned to face him. His eyes looked almost ready to shoot out lightning bolts, glowing red as Isis's glowed blue. "Spit it out, Mahai."
Mahai swallowed and finished in a rush of words. "Perhaps one could speak with Lord Anubis, and clear up the matter of his parentage, to let him know how things truly stand between him and his--'brother.'"
He fell silent, forcing himself not to squirm. Set continued staring at him with that look in his eyes; but after a moment the glow died away, and the corner of his mouth twitched up in a faint smile. Mahai started to relax again, but jumped when Set swept past, tapping his arm with his knuckles.
"I believe it's time I spoke with Anubis about his family tree," he said, heading for the door and opening it. He gestured Mahai out. "He'd better hear it from me before he finds out elsewhere. Find him and have him come here, with my word no swordplay will be involved."
Mahai bowed quickly and obeyed. He felt a grin creeping slowly up his face as he went.
He loved family discord.
Anubis kept his hand near his boomerang the whole way to Set's quarters. It wasn't that Mahai made him nervous; it was because he'd heard already of what had happened last night. Sobek had visited Horus before sunrise to find him awake already, his arm cut. They all knew Set had tried to attack him.
What would prevent him from doing the same with Anubis?
Mahai stopped at Set's door and backed away, barely meeting Anubis's eyes as he went in. Anubis turned away from the door as Mahai shut it from outside, the sound of his footsteps fading away down the hall. He peered further into the room, seeing Set standing inside, half lost in shadows.
Anubis touched his boomerang and nearly felt it glow.
"Good morning, Anubis," Set greeted, amiably enough.
Anubis didn't reply. He kept his eyes fixed warily on Set as his uncle approached, an oddly gracious smile on his face.
Set stopped nearby, crossing his arms. Neither of them said anything for a while, until Anubis lifted his head a little and spoke.
"Is there some reason you called me here?"
Set's smile dimmed momentarily. Anubis had failed to include a title of respect. He was too much like Isis in that regard, which made the situation all the more annoying to Set. He snorted lightly and turned to the balcony.
"I simply wished to clear a few things up for you. Now that Prince Horus is back the two of you seem to be getting along quite well."
"Is there anything wrong with that?" Anubis paused, then added under his breath, "Other than the fact you weren't so lucky in your family relationships."
Set bristled but kept his tongue. He turned back, forcing the smile to stay on his face.
"I just felt some concern that not everyone has been completely truthful with you these past few years. You do, after all, have the right to know your true position in the royal family." He looked at him closely. "Tell me, Anubis, haven't you ever wondered why you aren't first in line for the throne?"
Anubis's look grew guarded, though Set could see something--a mixture of envy and uncertainty, perhaps--flash in his eyes. Anubis averted them when he saw Set staring at him.
"It's not my place to question the order of things." He didn't sound completely convinced.
Set clucked his tongue. "Anubis, Anubis. You've questioned everything else. I can't believe you've never even wondered about it."
"So what?" Anubis shot back. He bit his lip and attempted to regain his composure. "I still don't see why you called me here. It's not my idea of a pleasant morning spending time talking with you."
Set grinned. "You know, you sound so much like Isis whenever we fight. I just wonder where it is you get that, if not from her."
Anubis fell silent a moment. "What do you mean?" His voice was quiet, wary.
"Haven't you figured it out yet?" Set gave him a pitying look. "Of course not, I can tell from your eyes. It's too bad you have to find out this way. You've never wondered exactly why Lord Osiris and I didn't get along, have you? You think it was really just jealousy? Just the want for this throne? You know it takes more than that to get me upset. I only take what's not mine when something of mine's been taken."
Anubis had started to back away, hand on his boomerang, almost ready to throw it if he had to. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course not. Isis always wanted to shield you, to 'protect' you from the truth, just for appearance's sake. Osiris never wanted to face it. An accident, he said, though that makes no difference. What happened happened, and because of it you're here."
"What are you talking about?" Anubis nearly shouted.
Set whirled on him. "Haven't you figured it out yet? Isis isn't your mother. Nephthys is your mother. Osiris is your father, and you were a mistake."
He saw the shock and devastation enter his nephew's eyes, and smiled inwardly. Anubis continued backing away, shaking his head slowly. "I don't believe you," he whispered, as if in a daze.
Set advanced on him. "Really? What else explains it all? Horus--the second born--crown prince?"
"It can't be true." Anubis's voice wavered.
"There was a banquet," Set said in a hiss. "Just about everyone got drunk. Including your father and my wife. Apparently one room around here looks much like another in the middle of the night, when you're drunk." His eyes narrowed. "It wasn't me. I wasn't here that night. He was. It's only fitting his life was ended at a banquet, the same way yours was begun."
Anubis didn't say anything. He'd backed himself against the wall like a cornered animal, and Set watched his chest rise and fall, his eyes filling up.
He offered Anubis another smile, almost kind this time. "I don't blame you, of course, Anubis. None of this is your fault. I'm certain you never would have wished such a thing to happen. That's why I'm offering you a place at my side." When Anubis just stared through him he went on. "Face it, Anubis. Isis and Osiris only raised you for looks. Nephthys gave you up. Horus is the crown prince. He's the one Isis wants to reign. You belong with none of them."
He stepped forward so they were only inches away from each other. Anubis's eyes were wide, agonized, bewildered.
"Horus is the one everyone loves," Set whispered, venom in his voice. "Horus, with his royal parentage and loyal family. No one cares about you. Except me. You help me keep the throne, and when I go on it's yours. Every king should have an heir. After all, you are the firstborn."
His nephew swallowed as if his throat were stuck.
Set backed away and went to open his door, taking Anubis by the arm. "You have a place in my army, at my side, Anubis. It's the only place you have. Don't think for a moment Horus has a place at his side for a bastard. But if you fight for me, against him," and his voice again dropped to a whisper, low and vicious, "then I'll see to it you always have a place, eventually the highest place in the kingdom. Think about it, Prince Anubis." He ushered Anubis from the room, and shut the door behind him.
To Anubis, standing stunned and alone in the hallway, the door shutting sounded like a thunderclap in his head, and he jumped.
Isis started and whirled around, her ladies backing away, when the door to her room slammed open. She could see Sobek standing outside with a startled look on his face; Anubis pushed past him and into the room before he could be stopped. He came toward her and did stop several paces away, his fists clenched at his sides. She could tell from the emotions warring in his eyes--anger, betrayal, disbelief--that something drastic had happened.
"Tell me he's lying," he shouted. "Tell me it's not true."
Isis paused; then, resigned, she waved her ladies away. They bowed and left, including Hetepet, who stood nearby with a cosmetics chest. She set it on a table and bowed herself out.
Sobek still stood at the door. Isis nodded at him and he disappeared as quickly as he'd entered.
Isis reached for her bottles and jars of perfumes and makeup and started putting them in the compartmented box. "Set, you mean," she said quietly. She already knew what this must be about.
"He told me about Nephthys," Anubis said. "He told me about the banquet. He told me everything. Why did I hear it from him? Why has everybody lied to me?"
"We thought it would be for your own good," Isis said.
An anguished look came over Anubis's face. "So it is true. He wasn't lying. Of everybody in the palace, only Set's told me the truth."
"We would have told you--"
"When? After Horus takes the throne? You wouldn't want his bastard brother finding out too soon, would you?"
"Don't speak that way!" Isis snapped.
"Why not?" Anubis burst out. "It's the truth. You raised me to always tell the truth. It seems I do it better than anyone else around here. Set told me. I was a mistake. Osiris didn't want me. My own mother didn't even want me. Why did you take me in? Out of pity? Was it that, or leave me in the desert? Maybe the jackals would have preferred me more."
"Nephthys loves you," Isis retorted. "If she'd kept you Set would have killed you long ago. Just like he's trying to kill Horus now. Whatever Set said is just to make you angry. Can't you see? He's trying to turn you against your brother, just like he did."
"Half-brother, remember? I'm only his half-brother. And aren't I the only reason this whole thing ever started? It wasn't jealousy. It wasn't because Set wanted the throne. It was because of me." He jabbed at his chest. "I'm the reason he killed Osiris. I'm the reason the kingdom's falling apart. I'm the reason we're on the edge of war!"
Isis squeezed a bottle so hard it cracked and popped in her hand, and she felt the blood trickle between her fingers. "If you start believing that," she said in a low voice, "then you're playing right into his hands. You're letting him win." She stood straighter and raised her voice. "You can't let him get to you. No matter what he says we've cared about you all along. No matter who you are. I don't love you any more or any less than I do Horus. I raised you as I would have raised him. I protected you from Set. If he tells you Nephthys left you and we took you in out of pity, that's not the truth he's telling. It's all lies."
"Is it?" Anubis backed away, his eyes pained, his voice bitter. "He says now he'll give me a place, next to him. He says I could be his heir if I wanted." Isis's eyes widened with disbelief. "Those don't sound like the words of somebody who wanted to kill me."
Isis had to search a moment for her voice. She held out her hand and stepped toward him, but he only backed away. "Anubis. Don't believe him. Look what he did to Horus. Look what he's doing to the family. He only wants to turn us against each other so he can win. You can't let him do this. Your place is here, with us. Beside Horus. Beside your brother."
He hesitated, and she dared to hope her entreaty had an effect on him, that she'd gotten through Set's lies. After a moment, however, he shook his head and backed away for her door. She saw the dead look in his eyes, and her heart quailed.
"No, it isn't," he said, his voice oddly flat. "I have no place. Especially not here."
He turned and opened the door so abruptly he nearly pulled off the handle, pushing past Sobek again, and fled. Isis ran to the door and watched him disappear around the corner into the west hall. She considered following him, but felt Sobek's hand on her arm and turned to look at him. He gave her a meaningful glance, and stared down the hall in the opposite direction. Isis followed his gaze.
The hall was dim, as always, but she could make out the solitary figure standing near a column, staring back with eyes that, even from this distance, Isis could tell held only pain.
She took a step forward. Nephthys turned and walked silently away with her head held low, not bothering to look back.
Isis's hand dropped to her side, her own blood drying sticky on her fingertips.
The morning of the next day the Sha and kudus Horus and his company had traveled on were again removed from their stables, outfitted, and led to wait at the edge of the river, outside the city. Set and Isis and their trains stood at the harbor to see them off. Horus looked up at the city wall to see people crowding atop their roofs, shielding their eyes against the early morning sunglare. He wondered why the mudbrick houses didn't collapse beneath their weight.
Someone touched his arm. He turned to see Isis looking up at him. Concern was in her eyes.
"You need to watch yourself," she said under her breath, so he had to lean toward her. "Set's been talking to Anubis."
Isis looked in the direction of the kudus. Anubis sat on one near the front, studying his reins. He didn't seem to be as enthusiastic as he'd been on their journey there. The others were around him, but he seemed to be apart from them, isolated.
"You know why he's not crown prince and you are," Isis said.
Horus looked at her. After a moment he nodded, understanding.
Anubis, part of him thought. What a terrible time for him to find out.
Isis squeezed his arm. "Be careful, Horus. I don't know how much Set got to him. He was upset. Your uncle offered him the chance to defect. I want to believe he'd never do such a thing, but now I'm not so sure."
Horus stared at Anubis another moment before turning back to Isis and offering a reassuring smile which he only half felt.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'll be careful. He needs some time to think this over and get used to it before he'll decide on anything. But I'll look out for both of us."
Isis looked at him closely, then nodded. She squeezed his arm again and let go. He turned and went to the group waiting on the kudus. A long train of Moru upon their Sha stood behind him, murmuring among themselves.
"The cliffs are going to be closing in on the river, so we might have to travel in pairs only," Upuat said as Horus approached and climbed upon his kudu. "When we reach Elephantine we'll have to head for the cataract to cross. The mounts will have to be left inland."
Horus nodded. "We have enough supplies to last us?"
"Good luck, Prince." The sunlight faded and Horus nearly felt his skin crawl when he heard Set's voice calling out to him. He barely glanced at his uncle as he bowed and turned his kudu, tapping its flanks and starting away up the river. A roar arose from the city, the people waving and cheering him on his way. As they drew further away he looked back once to see everyone still stood, tiny now, staring back.
He turned south again with a sigh. The weight had replaced itself in his heart, and it only grew heavier with every step he took away from his new home.